Michael Bailey: Easy peasy, the clock ticking on Carlos plus the tricks of Mario, Marley and Murphy – Six things learned from City’s Owls spark
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A long time coming and almost worth the wait – MICHAEL BAILEY sums up Norwich City's 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Carrow Road with his six things learned.
1 – Football really is a simple art
We can make football pretty complicated at times – and no doubt I'm as guilty of it as anyone else, picking apart the smallest of incidents and making keen conclusions.
The feelings that poured out following Saturday's win were understandable, given it had been so long coming – especially at Carrow Road. Yet what were the actual differences from some of the other home games?
Well, I'd argue in past matches this season we might have seen an offside failure as Gary Hooper slotted home. Or Timm Klose send his bullet header a yard over the bar. Or James Maddison catch his rebound too well, rather than well. It might be as simple as that.
However, credit here to City head coach Daniel Farke. He answered my question on Friday at Colney saying he wanted a higher tempo, more direct passes and deeper runs at home.
In the first half, it was horribly disjointed. In the second, City made all those things look simple.
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2 – Victories can mask all sins
Oh yes, the clamour to declare the fact Mario Vrancic finally played well. After all, he's been woeful all season hasn't he? And the key difference – a City win.
Not for me, I'm afraid. To be clear, I'm actually a Vrancic fan. He played pretty well against Wednesday, in a position he's still adjusting to. In fact, he's been pretty good in the last few games.
Yet I actually found myself frustrated at times as the Bosnian got needlessly caught in possession more than once – moments that get remembered when City lose and forgotten when they win.
Mario has been unfairly hammered several times this season. He isn't bullied as much as people think. But neither was he the best player on Saturday's pitch. Harrison Reed's fate was similar – going from weakest link for some at half-time, to star man 45 minutes later.
The real encouragement comes from stepped improvement. City look fond of a streak, so let's hope we'll now get a good one.
3 – It's all about the confidence
Josh Murphy had a really difficult time of it on Saturday. There was no hiding that – which is why it takes such a strong character to get anywhere near making it as a professional footballer. You have to fight and claw your way back from every setback.
Murphy hasn't suffered any major injury issues. He's not lost any of his ability. He's still wearing decent boots and he's still a very good, promising player.
He also looks desperately short on confidence, the reasons for which may be as straightforward as what life throws at you in a few weeks and your mental capacity to process it.
Perhaps Saturday was one too far for the 22-year-old in his current cycle of form, and that will hurt.
But likewise – and with some pretty well-timed returns from injury – there is now a real chance for Josh to have a break, recoup, get hungry, get angry and then get back. That would be the best response of all.
4 – What a right pair of returns
Arguably the most impressive part of Alex Pritchard's return to City's starting XI was the fact he made it to the brink of 80 minutes. That, without a proper pre-season and no real block of competitive minutes since his rehab.
His start was no particular surprise though. It was on the cards, desperately needed – and it delivered.
There wasn't much Pritchard could do to prevent City's first-half deficit but he certainly did his bit to make up for it after the break – as did the introduction of Marley Watkins, following his own injury break.
A wider forward role suits him to the ground and it's the position Watkins should take up from here – especially if he continues the work rate and endeavour, selfless, direct running and most crucially, what he and Pritchard share in abundance: real desire.
Here's hoping Watkins can take confidence in his night's work and now really show what he can bring to Farke's Canaries party.
5 – The Owls played their part
It always takes two to tango and for as good as City's second half performance was – it instigated exactly what they wanted – Wednesday played their part in it too.
Their 4-4-2 formation offered City possession and midfield dominance, which doesn't always come with such limited resistance.
In fact, it played into City's hands and most pleasing it was to see Norwich take that opportunity, their passing philosophy plus a little added tempo, directness and grit – and turn Wednesday over.
The Owls are in a tricky place. They have come very close to the Premier League with Carlos Carvalhal in the previous two season, having spent a lot of money along the way. This season, going significantly better was his only option – and it's just not happening.
The top six are off in the distance already and the supporters are making it clear that's not good enough – which may mean Carvalhal's cycle is coming to an end.
6 – That needs to be rock bottom
Apologies for bringing up the Canaries' defeat at Nottingham Forest last month but this was what I tweeted that night at full-time: 'These are tough times, and it could get worse before it gets better.'
And you know what? It really did. From tepid against Preston to exasperating in Wales, plus the AGM and all the shenanigans of last week.
Saturday's first half was the hangover. Carrow Road felt like no one wanted to be there, even before kick off – and those that weren't were happy to shout about it. The cork was ready to pop.
That Farke, his players and the City supporters got it going together from half-time almost caught everyone out. And you know what? It felt good. It felt exciting. It felt entertaining. It felt worth it.
Sure, a trip to Leeds awaits – but for all the previous reasons and so much more, there is no positive option from here: that first half on Saturday has to be rock bottom. The low point. The turning point.
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