Jon Punt: Grant Hanley is a growing influence on Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 11:04 19 February 2018
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Timm Klose ensured his name was indelibly written into derby day folklore with the kind of last-gasp equaliser that leaves supporters with badly bruised shins, horribly hoarse voices and a stranger's saliva on the back of their necks.
If the truth be told, though, the goal scorer had the relatively easy part in guiding the ball home – the hard yards were put in as Grant Hanley continued to chase a lost cause, diverted the ball from going out of play, then spun and delivered the finest cross Carrow Road had seen all afternoon.
It spoke volumes of the team’s character that they were able to offer Ipswich a quick riposte following Luke Chambers’ opener, but the creator’s part in the goal was more than a fitting reward for a tireless afternoon and season.
Hanley had endured a stuttering start to the campaign, first being deemed surplus to requirements on Tyneside, before many City fans wrote him off as nothing more than a panic buy, triggered by the defensive debacles at Villa Park and The Den. Furthermore, the Scot had to bide his time to become a mainstay of the team while Christoph Zimmermann and Klose repelled all around them to record a club record five consecutive clean sheets.
Lesser players may have questioned the wisdom of the move south at that point, yet Hanley continued to go about his business in an understated and professional manner, positively contributing when called upon from the bench.
His time was about to come. When Zimmermann’s form dipped a starting berth beckoned and Hanley has never looked back, slowly becoming an automatic pick under a manager who had previously favoured rotation.
Norwich’s defensive frailties have been exposed savagely over the last few seasons; the solidity offered by Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong in the late charge to Wembley was a potential statistical anomaly which papered over the cracks and allowed the real issue at hand to never really be properly addressed.
That time is over. While City may struggle at the top end of the pitch (James Maddison is ably papering over that particular crack), Farke has chosen to build from the back, constructing a yellow defensive wall in the shape of Zimmermann, Hanley and Klose. Those three composite parts all bring their respective strengths to make up an excellent and organised unit, but at the bedrock of it is Hanley’s no nonsense approach to his defensive duties. His aerial and physical presence allows his partners the confidence to play out from the back, be it through Zimmermann’s marauding runs upfield or Klose’s cameos on the left wing. Those risks are often more calculated and wise ones to take when you know you have a man behind you willing to head or kick concrete walls if it means not conceding a goal.
Allied to those facts are the man’s leadership credentials. In a team which has been devoid of proper on-field direction for a while, a player who has captained a Premier League side is a welcome commodity. His anticipation and organisation has quickly instilled a sense of solidity around him, all in a still fledgling defence which is unrecognisable from the start of the season. With Pinto’s indifferent form prior to his recent injury and Alex Tettey’s contractual situation yet to be sorted, it would be difficult to argue there’s a clearer pick for the armband next term. With hindsight, those dark days of late August might just have given Norwich fans the defender we’ve been demanding for some time.
Now he’s arrived let’s not take him for Granted.