Paddy Davitt verdict: Light and shade powering Norwich City
It really would be something if one of the defining episodes of a thrilling Championship revival for the Canaries turns out to be a blown fuse.
Just when you thought you had seen it all at Carrow Road this season.
Even by the remarkably high benchmark of late goals, breathless drama and, to use Daniel Farke’s description after that Boxing Day comeback, ‘explosions’ what unfolded against Derby County reached new levels of madness.
Farke was adamant but for that late floodlight failure at the River End his side would have pocketed all three points against a Derby County - under the management of Frank Lampard - struggling to justify the hype on the fringes of the play-off places.
The German’s logic was sound. Teemu Pukki had just snaffled Onel Hernandez’s wayward shot to put City back in front with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
Given what had gone before on Norfolk soil in recent months the final outcome was far from certain, but in terms of the momentum, the electricity in the crowd and another blow to a Derby side fresh from a Boxing Day defeat at Sheffield United, it would have taken a major turnaround for the Rams to engineer a winning position.
But what is not in dispute, from Farke or anyone else in attendance, was the alarming defensive vulnerability that needs to be addressed.
Nor is that a slight on the unit stationed in front of Tim Krul.
There was a collective abdication, with forward players unable to clear their lines at two first half corners, or back-tracking midfielders unable to check a surge of white shirts from swarming over a backline that buckled once the power had been fully restored.
Farke had it spot on.
Put the short circuit interlude to one side and this game hinged on City’s slackness in two crucial five minute spells.
Only a second league defeat since August 25 is hardly cause for alarm, but there are trends within Norwich’s play that threaten to unpick so much that is vibrant and cohesive.
The opening 35 minutes were scintillating. Farke labelled it the best of his tenure. Lampard himself conceded his side were in for ‘a pasting’ if they were unable to stem the flow. Yet Norwich went in at the break level after more corner carnage.
It could have been even worse, when Jack Marriott served notice what was to come in the game’s defining act after outstripping the already yellow-card Christoph Zimmermann, but failing to guide his shot inside Krul’s near post.
There will be an inevitable clamour in some quarters now for Grant Hanley to step up at Brentford. But it will take more than the imposing figure of the Scottish international to eradicate the structural flaws.
Minus the soothing possession-based approach of Moritz Leitner, City look alarmingly open in central areas.
Both Derby and Nottingham Forest roamed free too easily. Mario Vrancic underlined his creative potential against the Rams yet again, but when Leitner is absent there is a lack of control to the tempo and a propensity for the game to become worryingly stretched.
Farke will know that, given how highly he rates Leitner.
Then there is the broader injury situation. Beyond Leitner, the loss of a Jamal Lewis for any length of time has the potential to disrupt and disjoint.
Ben Godfrey produced a more than passable impression at left back, in Lewis’ injury absence, and capped his re-deployment with a first senior goal for the club, but Lewis is a natural in that position.
Emi Buendia is another so vital to the style Farke wants to employ. Onel Hernandez was prominent and Todd Cantwell looked to exert his influence at every opportunity, but there is a greater assurance to Buendia’s cut and thrust and a sense he is on the same wavelength as another technician in Leitner.
Finding the answers between now and New Year’s Day is a huge test of Farke’s management and the capacity for his depleted squad to look forward rather than wallow in a bizarre defeat. The pain will linger but the hangover must clear.
A surprise home league defeat for Leeds and only a stoppage time comeback to salvage a draw for West Brom over this past weekend perhaps underlines it is not just the Canaries’ being buffeted by adverse currents.
Harnessing that resilience and channelling that frustration is key in the hours ahead between now and the first chance to respond at Grifffin Park.
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