Michael Bailey: Farkestrife, Mo-mentum and Stoke’s ceiling – Six things we learned from Norwich City’s stumble and trip
The bitter taste of defeat never disappears, regardless how long it was since the last time – Michael Bailey offers his six things learned as Norwich City slip up against Stoke at Carrow Road.
1 – The penny appears to be dropping
There were good things said about the Carrow Road atmosphere against Middlesbrough – and it was indeed OK. But Saturday felt on a different level.
There was a spell in the second half where City were chasing the game by stroking the ball around, doing what they’ve done for most of Daniel Farke’s time in charge. And for once, there were no angry screams to hurry up and get forward quicker – instead a desire to back what City were trying to do and hope it came good.
Of course, the irony is it didn’t – but Norwich will find much more joy over the longer term with the backdrop of Saturday, compared to what has gone before in recent months.
A good run of form has played its part in instigating more noise and support, and that will always be the key.
But with City looking like a good side and with more rounded, shared quality available than last season, it would be nice to add being better backed into the mix.
2 – He’s proving a man of the Mo-ment
The thought was similar to watching City take on Derby in midweek. The quicker tempo to get the ball higher up the pitch, the assured composure in tight situations plus plenty of work and a nice, robust edge.
In fact, City’s quality possession has been one of the real eye-catchers over the last month – to the point where City barely put a pass wrong all afternoon against Stoke, at least until it came to the key bit (more on that is on its way).
So step forward Moritz Leitner. Only Oliver Norwood and Barry Bannan have made more passes per game than City’s number 10 so far this season, and it takes about two minutes of watching Farke’s side to realise how important the German’s form is to City being a successful side.
As has always felt the case, Leitner relies on others: to protect, and finish off his good work. He is the Canaries’ facilitator.
And given this is a team game, it’s a key role.
3 – There was a sign of strength
The Canaries’ need to make do and mend following news of Grant Hanley’s thigh injury and Onel Hernandez’s hernia operation, ultimately took on a life of its own.
And like most things with football, that doesn’t always come with immediate credit.
Once City saw the fickle foot of fate prod Stoke into the lead, there was no denying Farke’s side needed a spark – and in truth, asking Hernandez to deliver that so shortly after his return to injury was always going to be a big ask.
Still, the sight of City’s Cuban flyer back on the pitch was more a reminder of the quality Norwich will be able to call on in the coming weeks, when no doubt the form and fitness of others will falter.
Indeed, Hernandez’s almost blinkered search to feed Jordan Rhodes at every opportunity was a key factor in the points City claimed over the opening weeks of the season – and we all know such weapons will come to the fore again eventually.
4 – And there was Farkestrife
There’s no denying Norwich ended up on the wrong side of a few things on Saturday – luck, rub, ref and more. But no game between two teams leaves one side absolved of all blame.
I can fully appreciate Farke’s decision to go with another unchanged XI on Saturday – it was arguably braver than making a change or two with players who have impressed from the bench, to give just a dash of freshness. Such is life and hindsight.
There is credit to be taken from sticking to your principles when your opponents are sitting in and holding on like their Premier League status depends on it.
But the fact City never really appeared to mix up their strategy enough in the final third, left Stoke looking rather more comfortable than other stats dictated.
Butland was never overworked, while crosses of a varying standard rarely had enough to aim for. In a season with more goalscoring promise than last, it showed there is still work to do.
5 – Stoke have still got top-flight banter
In the end, Stoke’s superior experience counted for a lot – primarily once they had been gifted the game’s only goal. Burton last season would’ve been proud of how deep the Potters decided to sit from that point on.
The one thing Premier League relegation scraps prepare you for is how to hold on when a bit of luck comes along, how to kill a game, buy fouls and cling on for dear life against a side playing far better football.
I didn’t see Gary Rowett’s Derby deliver flowing, attacking football – the same can now be said of Stoke – and while there is enough about them to think they won’t hang around deep in the bottom half for too long, nor should they.
That doesn’t mean they look capable of mounting a promotion challenge.
Norwich head to Stoke come Easter time – when it would be nice to think City will still be ahead of their relegated rivals, and some luck repayment could prove hugely important.
6 – It needs to be anomaly over norm
It stuck me as Ipswich were 2-0 up at Birmingham the previous weekend – that Town would probably get their first win on the same day Norwich lost their unbeaten run. Football has a happy knack for patterns.
Over the course of a 46-game campaign, relegated sides are going to win games and promoted sides will lose them – and for the record, I’m not labelling either East Anglian club as one or the other just 10 games into a season.
But both now have a similar task awaiting them once the second international break of the term is done: to use how it began to be better, one way or another.
Pockets of joy don’t save a season and Ipswich have no option but to make sure their remarkable win at Swansea was not the proverbial freak result that pops up in the Championship rigours.
And once City’s bitter pill digests, they can look at the table and see the promising start they’ve made – and then work out how to avoid their autumnal slump of last year.
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