Melissa Rudd: How Norwich City have given us a surprise or two
PUBLISHED: 18:53 26 September 2018
If you'd asked Norwich City fans their biggest concern ahead of this campaign, most would probably have cited a potential lack of goals.
It was an obvious flaw in a team that had just sold their top two goal scorers and whose third – Nelson Oliveira – clearly remained out of favour with the boss.
The recent records of the players bought in to strengthen that attack, Jordan Rhodes, who’d scored five in 2017/18 for Sheffield Wednesday, and Teemu Pukki, who’d managed 13 in the Danish top division, perhaps didn’t quash those fears that City may be weak up top.
So to be nine games and three cup victories in and able to talk about one in red hot form and the other bagging a hat-trick is a welcome surprise. In fact, there have been quite a few of those in recent weeks.
Rhodes’ three goals at Wycombe on Tuesday night may have come against lower league opposition, but for a striker who had gone seven games without scoring and dropped to the bench his confidence would have been significantly boosted travelling home with the match ball.
Pukki’s form has been somewhat of a revelation. Five goals in five games in a two-week period, including two for his country, is an impressive return by any standards, but when you consider Pukki had previously only played seven games in English football (and scored in three of those) I don’t think even the man himself would have predicted such a strong start to his Norwich career. Celtic fans who watched him struggle for them in 2013/14 certainly wouldn’t have.
Pukki isn’t the only foreign import who has stood out in the past fortnight. It may have taken him longer to adapt, but Marco Stiepermann has emerged as a solid versatile midfield option despite being mainly deployed as a full-back in the first half of last season.
That department had prior to now been a problem area for Daniel Farke. It’s to his credit that Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons have made those wide berths their own with their recent displays. The head coach was clearly right to trust Aarons in the midst of a derby battle, and the fact the 18-year-old is keeping Borussia Dortmund loanee Felix Passlack on the sidelines is testament to how well he has begun life at Carrow Road.
Both Aarons and Lewis were particularly solid in the victory over Middlesbrough, an all-round performance that ranked among the best under Farke’s reign.
Too many times, however, good performances and results have signalled false dawns and being able to follow that win up with results away at Reading and QPR was always going to prove a more accurate yardstick of City’s progress.
The fact that those fixtures proved Norwich’s first three straight league wins since Alex Neil was at the helm tells its own story regarding inconsistency. Now nine games into the Championship season, City already have one more win than they did after the same number of matches last term and have scored five more goals.
At this point in 2017/18, Leeds, Wolves and Cardiff were only separated by goal difference at the top of the table. Given that Nuno Espirito Santo’s team went on to walk the league, seal promotion by mid-April and have enjoyed a great start to life in the Premier League, it’s difficult to see a team matching their dominance this campaign.
Of course it is still too early to make sweeping judgments, as Leeds’ plight went on to prove in the last campaign. We’re not even a fifth of the way into the season, and Thomas Christiansen had won two more points than the much-praised Marcelo Bielsa had at this point 12 months ago. The Dane was out of a job by early February.
After winning four games in the space of 10 days, though, City have the perfect opportunity to make it five in a row in all competitions with the visit of Wigan on Saturday. Former Canary Paul Cook’s side may be fifth in the table, but the Latics have lost three of their four games on the road this season, a number this buoyant Norwich side will be looking to increase by one.