Canaries fringe players will be vital in pursuit of glory
Guest columnist MATT GUY looks at the importance of Norwich City’s fringe players over the next dozen games
Norwich City’s strength in depth is no secret.
An overflowing reservoir of talent has resulted in a healthy competition for starting places.
Yet, this is clearly not due to our squad size. Last summer’s welcome loan exodus and a single January arrival in Dynamo Dresden’s Philip Heise reflects a minimalist recruitment strategy – one that most City fans will agree has paid off.
As a result, Daniel Farke has been left with a reasonably compact selection, but bizarrely one in which most players sit at a first-team standard.
It’s a case of quality over quantity. And as crunch time approaches, this is where such a characteristic truly counts.
I firmly believe the contributions of Norwich’s peripheral players will keep us at the league’s summit.
A quick glance at other Championship squads shows the strength of our back-up options. Michael McGovern, Timm Klose, Grant Hanley, Moritz Leitner and Jordan Rhodes formed the spine of our bench against Bristol City. That’s over 70 international caps, one Champions League finalist and the makings of a lethal five-a-side team.
Though Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis show that experience isn’t everything, these are high-calibre reinforcements who still have a significant role to play.
Rival teams admittedly possess their own reserve talent, but putting my unashamed bias aside, City simply have greater quality at their disposal.
The midfield is perhaps where Norwich’s fringe players can provide the greatest advantage.
Mario Vrancic’s early return to fitness is a boost, but as games come thick and fast we will benefit from deploying several different combinations in the middle.
I use the word ‘fringe’ loosely. For instance, Todd Cantwell has made 16 starts this term and despite recently falling victim to Marco Stiepermann’s meteoric rise, his contributions are not over yet.
For some reason I can’t shift the vision of a mazy Cantwell run followed by a curling finish against Blackburn, or perhaps Stoke, in late April.
Maybe the heady heights of first place are causing me to hallucinate. But dream-like speculation never hurt anybody – and Cantwell has the ability.
Kenny McLean is another already on the ascent. Finally free from injury, McLean remains a relatively untapped resource who will now be brimming with confidence – a shiny electric generator amid the reliable coal-burning units Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull.
Two classy finishes last week proved McLean is more than ready to assume centre stage.
Our peripheral men will also be important from a defensive perspective, with Klose, Hanley, Heise and Felix Passlack waiting in the wings.
Club captain Hanley may have been displaced from the first XI in a Russell Martin-esque fashion, but a lack of minutes does not reflect his quality. I have no doubt our iron Scotsman will rescue us from jeopardy in some capacity before May 5.
And finally, as much as I would love Teemu Pukki continue scoring like a metronome, offensive assistance is going to be vital – even if simply to alleviate the weight of expectation from his shoulders. Against Bristol, Pukki showed he is mortal.
Enter Jordan Rhodes.
Farke’s comments at last week’s fans’ forum might have raised a few eyebrows in describing Rhodes as “the most special, unique guy I’ve worked with”.
Yet it’s true: Rhodes’ attitude and patience is faultless and he has become a master at pouncing when chances arise.
The late strike at West Brom stands out, where Rhodes seemed to contort his hips impossibly to angle the ball in first-time.
Dennis Srbeny’s perseverance is admirable, but there seems to be a certain magnetism between the ball and the net when Rhodes enters the fray.
This will be crucial in our final stretch.
Back to reality: our place in the top two may suggest the finish line is within tantalising reach, but it’s not all going to be plain sailing. Our big names are bound to encounter some road bumps in our remaining 12 games.
Fortunately, City can call on their backstage men to provide the answer.