Paddy Davitt verdict: Brave on the pitch, brave off it. City go to the well again
Some points are worth more than others. Norwich City used emergency rations to grab one at Brentford.
With the nasty aftertaste of Derby County’s remarkable comeback still lingering in the back of the throat, City were so far off the pace in the first half at Griffin Park they needed satellite navigation to find their way.
Daniel Farke’s brave selection calls and his faith in the same starting line-up were poised for serious examination, with his toiling side second best prior to the interval.
Instead it was Farke who led the post-match inquest; centred principally on a diabolical decision from the officials to turn down Teemu Pukki’s penalty shout.
The flying Finn was literally catapulted into orbit inside the Brentford area after being trapped in a Bees’ pincer between Julian Jeanvier and Rico Henry. Television replays appeared to suggest referee Ward was unsighted at the crucial moment of impact, as he ran behind the back of Mario Vrancic. With seemingly no assistance coming from his assistants, play continued - to the incredulity of Farke.
Such was the German’s annoyance he was prepared to afford the officials the benefit of the doubt in later spot-kick shouts involving Jordan Rhodes. Farke is not prone to singling out the shortcomings of others, which perhaps underlined the depth of his anger.
It was another facet of a contest in which all the cards appeared stacked about the Canaries.
Having sent the same personnel into battle for a fourth festive game the last thing the City chief needed was fresh injury concerns to the likes of Marco Stiepermann and Alex Tettey.
The initial prognosis after the game from the head coach was both should be in contention for the resumption of Championship hostilities at West Brom, beyond this weekend’s FA Cup third round bow at home to Portsmouth.
But with Emi Buendia and Moritz Leitner already ruled out until the start of February at the earliest, and Kenny McLean and Louis Thompson on the comeback trail there is a worryingly threadbare look to City’s frontline midfield options.
Such disruption hardly aided a laboured, lacklustre opening 45 minutes from the visitors. Brentford were vibrant, energetic and full value for their half-time lead, courtesy of another generous set-piece concession. Jeanvier leapt to power home Said Benrahma’s corner at the near post in a trend which is now bordering on toxic from City’s perspective.
Whether it is personnel and the quest for individual responsibility or whether it is a revised tactical approach, Farke needs to find a remedy.
Another cheap goal merely gave Brentford added encouragement, when it is was clear from very early the Bees are on an upward curve.
Neal Maupay, Sergi Canos and Benrahma darted between the lines and relished the wide, open spaces. There was a confidence and a composure to the hosts which for long periods of this season has been the preserve of Farke’s unit.
Yet when the stricken Tettey departed early in the second period there looked only one viable outcome.
But that gene to resist is alive and well in 2019 as it was before the fireworks and Auld Lang Syne. Farke deployed Rhodes alongside Pukki and shifted his depleted resources into a defensive three.
The dynamic was decisively altered and the result was a final quarter that brought Klose’s leveller, when he rose majestically to divert Vrancic’s corner against Ezri Konsa.
It could have brought a winner, after Tom Trybull and Pukki combined down the left, before Pukki’s awareness picked out the late-arriving run of Dennis Srbeny who dragged a low, left-footed shot wide of the far post.
That may have been harsh on the Bees but few outside of Norfolk cared too much when the Rams cashed in on a bizarre floodlight failure last weekend to hit back after that lengthy delay.
Defeats for Leeds and West Brom on Tuesday magnified the importance of such a sterling fightback.
Farke and those who have shouldered the burden over the festive period can pause and take stock while the FA Cup moves centre stage.
The German’s appetite for cup combat is beyond dispute but what happens against Portsmouth this weekend will not define their season.
The priority must remain maximising the tantalising prospect of holding a genuine stake in the Championship promotion race.