New boys eagerly waiting as City put down their tasty Suffolk bitter to search for underdog spirit at Wolves
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It may have been fun to see victory snatched away from Ipswich in such comically late fashion by Timm Klose, but it’s time to come back down to earth.
League leaders Wolves await tomorrow night and if City don’t put in a better performance than Sunday, that return to terra firma will most likely be with a bump.
The Black Country side have looked like promotion contenders since the early stages of the season, as former Porto boss Nuno Espirito Santo settled into his new pair of cash-cushioned slippers at Molineux.
In came Ruben Neves from Porto for around £15million, as Portuguese super agent Jorge Mendes continued to act as an advisor to Chinese investment company Fosun International, who bought the club in 2016.
Add to that reported fees of £13m on Helder Costa and £7m on Ivan Cavaleiro, as well as agreed permanent deals for loan players Diogo Jota (£10m with Atletico Madrid) and Leo Bonatini (£5m with Al-Hilal) and it’s clear to see why Wolves are 11 points clear at the top of the Championship.
With former Canaries players John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett of course added to the mix as their wages proved too expensive amid City’s cloth cutting, Wanderers would probably have survived comfortably in the Premier League this season.
The leaders have lost just one of their last 17 league matches, although a three-game winning streak was halted by a 1-1 draw at Alex Neil’s Preston on Saturday.
It means Daniel Farke’s team will need a much better first half than they produced against Ipswich on Sunday – although derby nerves could well take the blame for that out-of-sorts display.
At half-time the Canaries had enjoyed 60 percent of possession but had won just 36pc of the aerial balls against Mick McCarthy’s direct side, had seen the visitors fire in seven shots, three of which were on target, and had managed just two off-target efforts themselves.
Play like that at Molineux and City’s recent strong form is likely to suffer a sizeable dent.
Once the excitement of Klose’s last-gasp equaliser subsided it left Farke’s team still in 13th, still behind Ipswich on goal difference and still eight points adrift of the top six. That leveller did salvage a fine run of just one defeat in 11 matches in all competitions though – not counting losing to Chelsea in a penalty shootout as a defeat.
It is that improved form which has had some optimistic supporters daring to dream about a late push for the play-offs, with away results playing a key part.
The Canaries haven’t been beaten in their last six games on the road, winning at Birmingham and drawing at Burton, before 1-0 wins at Brentford and Bristol City, with that shootout loss at Chelsea after a 1-1 extra-time draw also in the mix.
It is the performance when holding Derby to a 1-1 draw last time out, another of the automatic promotion hopefuls, which offered the most hope though.
City dominated the Rams that day, with energetic verve leaving the hosts chasing shadows as the visitors set the rhythm of play and were left disappointed not to win.
Which leads back to the main reason for that eight-point gap to the top six: scoring goals. Averaging a goal a game is simply not enough.
Nelson Oliveira has gone 11 games without a goal and has Dennis Srbeny eagerly awaiting a proper chance to show what he can do. The Portugal international can’t say he hasn’t been given a fair crack of the whip but is a game against high-flying Wolves a fair place to hand January signing Srbeny his full debut? That is Farke’s conundrum, with Cuban winger Onel Hernandez in the same boat, breathing down Josh Murphy’s neck after an unconvincing weekend performance.
With a home game against struggling Bolton to follow on Saturday, a delicate balance is needed, to make sure City are competitive enough to give themselves a chance – without hindering the chance of victory on Saturday.
That is likely to mean the settled back three of Grant Hanley, Christoph Zimmermann and Klose will continue, and that combative midfielder Alex Tettey is needed.
Changes in attack seem more feasible though, in a game with little expectation or pressure on the Canaries.
That is a situation which has suited Farke’s squad just fine this season though, just ask play-off hopefuls Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Brentford and Bristol.
Time to put down that tasty Suffolk bitter and summon some more of that Dutch – or should that be German? – courage which supplied the underdog spirit.