Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s 3-1 Championship loss against Preston
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Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his verdict from Preston North End
1. Paying the penalty
There are many impressive statistics wrapped around Norwich City’s unlikely Championship promotion push. But there is one bald spot - situated about 12 yards from the goal line to be precise - which is proving an irritation bordering on inflammation.
Marco Stiepermann is now the fourth Norwich player to miss a penalty this season.
You can debate the footballing semantics around a shot that was technically saved by Declan Rudd flinging himself to his right to deny his boyhood club. But the painful upshot is Stiepermann, Teemu Pukki, Mario Vrancic and Jordan Rhodes, on two separate occasions, have all now failed to convert.
That is a ridiculously poor return from a contest that should in theory be tilted firmly in the favour of the player stepping up to the mark.
This now feels like a mental battle as much as a test of technique. Daniel Farke revealed afterwards Stiepermann had been flawless in training. But there was a palpable sense of nervousness to his body language before he prepared to take the kick when it really mattered. At such a crucial point in a game careering away from Norwich it was a costly error on every level.
2. Godfrey going through the gears
After a weekend when Norwich’s rapidly maturing centre back might have seen his name in headlines linking him to mighty Manchester United and Arsenal, this was another impressive display of athleticism and desire.
Godfrey must share collective responsibility as part of a backline who shipped three goals at Deepdale but he did as much as anyone in yellow and green to ensure the damage was not even worse as the game veered from one end to the other.
There was also a marauding run that eventually led to the penalty awarded for Ben Pearson’s tip tackle on Onel Hernandez. Then the thumping back post header, in the midst of City’s brightest spell, that arguably produced Rudd’s best save of the evening from close range.
This was a rare blip in an otherwise consistent body of work for Godfrey and his team mates. But as a learning curve, it might also prove a useful reminder the route to the big time is littered with challenges and setbacks.
3. Central reservation
Much of the focus may settle on Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull, when the dust settles and dissection begins in earnest into the reasons for Norwich’s Deepdale defeat. That is too simplistic but Trybull was withdrawn at the interval and Tettey looked like a player who needed a game or two after an injury layoff.
Preston’s energy and high tempo attacking urges placed a huge onus on the pair to repel the white shirts in that early, defining barrage. Trybull looks much more composed when he is not striving for reverse.
It was a sharp reminder of how good Mario Vrancic has been until suffering ankle ligament damage on derby duty. It was also another nod to the sense of serenity that comes when Moritz Leitner is on the park. An option denied Farke for too many months now.
That might be about to change, with the German midfielder back in training after his own ankle issues. Farke also has Kenny McLean in the mix. In such a crucial area of the pitch, getting the blend right from here could be his thorniest selection dilemma.
4. The acceptable face of Norwich past
Three guesses who would win a popularity contest out of Paul Lambert and Alex Neil? Granted, Neil may have succeeded where Lambert miserably failed by inflicting a painful Championship defeat on his former employers. But there was none of the nasty undercurrent to Sunday’s East Anglian derby duel which continues to rumble at FA level.
Neil spoke glowingly in the build up and again after masterminding this 3-1 win about his debt of gratitude to the Canaries for giving him an opportunity.
Things had reached what felt a natural conclusion when the club opted to embark on a course which led them to Farke.
But Neil bears no grudge or feels his achievements have not been recognised. At least if he does he is a master of disguise. With Rudd playing such a decisive role as well as Preston’s last line there is no doubt if Norwich fans had to give up three points over these last few days, they went to the right recipients.
5. B for Bolton. B for big
A rapidly improving Preston under a highly motivated manager always looked a difficult assignment after the epic high of beating Ipswich.
But a trip to struggling Bolton - despite their own midweek success at Birmingham - really does assume even greater importance after this setback.
With Leeds and Sheffield United both cashing in on Norwich’s stumble Farke needs to get his starting line up spot on against the Trotters.
Few might need reminding they turned in a lacklustre display on their last visit. But that was a different set of players under the German and a team with far more modest ambitions.
City have worked so hard on and off the pitch, and when tested at various stages of this Championship ride have found a way to prevail. Even the best sides can fall down now and again. It is how you get up and react that defines the character and the spirit as much as the talent and ability.
We will not have long to wait for an answer.
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