Ian Clarke: My Norwich City New Year's resolutions

Teemu Pukki of Norwich celebrates scoring his sides 1st goal from the penalty spot during the Sky Be

Teemu Pukki scored his 11th league goal from the penalty spot. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Top of the league on New Year's Day - we couldn't have asked for much more than that, could we?

After an incredibly tough 2020 in so many ways, Norwich City have built the foundations for hopefully a much more positive 2021.

Make no mistake about, the coming year has so many challenges - the key ones are much, much more important than football.

But as this column is about the beautiful game - and the Canaries specifically - I'll contain my thoughts to the 12 months ahead for our beloved team.

The defeat to Watford and the disappointing draw with QPR have seen some of the air let out of the huge bubble of positivity which has built up over recent weeks.

However, to be in first place at the start of the new year and the beginning of the second half of the campaign is a massive plus.

Kenny McLean leads the celebrations for Teemu Pukki's second half penalty in Norwich City's 1-1 Championship draw against QPR

Kenny McLean leads the celebrations for Teemu Pukki's second half penalty in Norwich City's 1-1 Championship draw against QPR - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Before Bournemouth and Swansea kicked off their midweek games, Daniel Farke's men were five points clear at the summit, six ahead of third and nine better off than seventh.

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We were out-thought and out-muscled at Vicarage Road, where the new manager bounce certainly combined with Storm Bella.

QPR was one of those frustrating nights where 64pc possession and 23 shots meant very little - and it could so easily have been zero points had it not been for THAT miss at the end (and yes, mum, you really would have buried it!).

Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke

Daniel Farke enjoys his moment with the Carrow Road crowd following victory over QPR the last time the teams met - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

So, on to my resolutions for the Canaries for 2021. 

More goals, please: I mentioned the stats from the QPR game above. Even more stark are some figures from the brilliant Twitter account NCFC Numbers. City have had 364 shots this season - 42 more than anyone else in the Championship and 100 more than 21 of the 23 other teams. Yet City have a worse shots to goals conversion rate than anyone higher than 16th. We bagged 93 in the previous promotion campaign - and have to find the net more to give us the vital cushion in matches.

And let's be three and easy at Carra: The last time Norwich scored three times at home? September 14, 2019 - yep that never to be forgotten victory over Manchester City. Lots of fans feel a team is heading for a pasting in NR1 but we need to see it.

Keep it tight: Yes, I know I'm greedy wanting a mean defence at the same time as more goals. With 20 conceded from 22 games, City are still on course for letting in an average of less than a goal a match for the first time since 2003/4. If goals are harder to come by this time around, the backline has to get it right.

Get Tim back in: I wrote last time about Michael McGovern and stick with the view that he's done all that could have been expected of him. Daniel Barden is a great prospect and did nothing wrong when he was thrust into the fray on Tuesday. However, we all know Norwich City look so much better when the league's best keeper is between the sticks. Everything must be done to get Tim Krul back in as soon as possible.

Daniel Farke and Tim Krul

City head coach Daniel Farke and the league's best keeper, Tim Krul - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

G Force: We all love Christoph Zimmermann and he's become a cult figure at our club. Football, however, is a tough game and the boss has to make hard decisions. For me, Daniel Farke has to reunite our best central defensive partnership - and have the G Force of (Ben) Gibson and Grant (Hanley).

Phones off: We're already braced for another month of speculation, rumour and gossip as the transfer window swings open. I heard a funny Christmas week joke that Arsenal were looking to sign Emi Buendia for £15m. The circus will roll into town and lots of our young stars will be linked elsewhere. So my suggestion to Stuart Webber is, turn that phone off until February 1.

Get the fans back in, but only when safe: I worked out I've watched only six Norwich City games live in 2020. Four were Premier League games at Carra, one was the brilliant FA Cup win at Spurs and the final one was the recent victory over Nottingham Forest. At the moment, with us still in the middle of a health crisis, games sadly have to be played behind closed doors. We have to hope that the vaccines will bring us hope for the year ahead. All City fans want to be back cheering on the lads rather than shouting at the telly at home. Norwich have proved they can do things properly and safely, so when the time is right, we can get back to having some supporters back in. And eventually - and it's going to be a long time I fear - we can be back in our normal seats enjoying the match day experience we all love.

Norwich City youngster Daniel Barden replaced the injured Michael McGovern for his Championship debut at half-time against...

Norwich City youngster Daniel Barden replaced the injured Michael McGovern for his Championship debut at half-time against QPR - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Stars of 2020 

It's a time for reflection on the past year and I've decided to do my top three Norwich City "stars of 2020".

I've mentioned the importance of Krul in the main piece of my column - and he gets my vote as number one.

His consistency, his influence and his heroics shone out during a tough year.  

Those penalty saves at Spurs certainly provided me with my 2020 City highlight.

Max Aarons gets my second spot.

He started every league game in the year and has been Mr Consistent for us - and the maturity shown by a lad who only turns 21 next week when he was linked with those massive moves away was incredible.

Barcelona have joined a long list of clubs linked with Canaries right-back Max Aarons
Picture: Pau

Max Aarons - calm in the face of speculation - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

What a year it's been for Daniel Farke with so many ups and downs and challenges beyond football.

He has remained positive, calm (apart from when those pesky refs upset him) and able to lift his squad from the depths of relegation woes to the top of the Championship.

So he deservedly gets my other podium position.

Who from Guess Who?

One of my favourite Christmas presents was the Norwich City version of the Guess Who? game.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the format of the traditional family favourite and the Canary twist to it is lots of fun.

There's a good mix of current and past players and staff and Mrs Clarke is looking forward to lots of Tier 4 winter evenings playing it!

So here's a little challenge - pick a manager and best XI from those featured (and please let me know your choices and I'll reveal mine next time!)

In order of appearance on the game board, here are all the names: Nathan Redmond, Justin Fashanu, Simeon Jackson, Emi Buendia, Jerry Goss, Timm Klose, Iwan Roberts, John Ruddy, Wes Hoolahan, Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Chris Sutton, Mario Vrancic, James Maddison, Tim Krul, Russ Martin, Grant Holt, Max Aarons, Daniel Farke, Christoph Zimmermann, Bryan Gunn, Teemu Pukki, Onel Hernandez, Todd Cantwell.

OTBC and Happy New Year.

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