Robin Sainty: Mind games playing a crucial part in Norwich City’s success
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The last couple of months have seen those who write about Norwich City struggling to find new words to describe their stylish football, but one has been noticeable by its absence: ruthless.
On Saturday, City toyed with Bolton like a cat with a mouse, enjoying a huge amount of possession and carving out chances while, apart from a superb Tim Krul save early on, looking in no danger whatsoever until after they scored their second goal.
Ben Godfrey, drafted in moments before kick-off when Timm Klose reported a problem with his knee, had looked imperious and Mario Vrancic was forensically dissecting the visiting defence with his wide range of passing. It seemed to be simply a question of how many goals the Canaries would run in.
And then it all changed. Bolton, with nothing left to lose, threw on another striker and started to shell the City box, and suddenly the absence of Klose started to look significant as the young back four began to look uncertain under the bombardment, and after the impressive Sammy Ameobi had been offered the freedom of Norwich to ram the ball home, nerves really started to jangle, both on the pitch and in the stands, with the scrappy equaliser hardly coming as a surprise.
While dejection turned to euphoria moments later, this was the most uncomfortable I have seen City at the back in months and it will inevitably, despite his post-match comments, be a concern for Daniel Farke and his coaching staff.
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Having said that, I think we always knew that the recent run of games against struggling teams would be difficult. On paper City were clear favourites, so winning was expected, whereas defeat would have been unthinkable, but playing against packed defences is never easy and, ironically, I think that some of the tougher upcoming fixtures against sides who will be aiming for wins rather than draws will actually benefit Farke's side.
By the way, that post-match interview gives a big clue as to why there is such a great spirit in the dressing room. The constant public accentuation of the positives sends a great message both to players and fans, and while no doubt Saturday's shortcomings will be examined in detail at Colney this week, the fact that Farke wasn't prepared to dampen the post-game euphoria said a great deal about his man management.
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It's not just down to personal ability that Max Aarons, Todd Cantwell and now Godfrey have been able to slot so seamlessly into the team; it's also a result of an environment in which everyone is kept involved and constantly assured of their value.
It's also the main reason, apart from tremendous levels of fitness, that City have been able to strike at the death in so many games. After Bolton's equaliser there were no recriminations, just a collective desire to get the win, and, once again, an absolute belief in the system.
With so little time left and a free-kick on halfway after Ameobi's sending off, how many teams would have shoved their big men up and 'stuck it in the mixer'? Not City, who simply did what they would have done at any other point and played it short, waited for the opening and took it.
Of course, it won't always work out like it did on Saturday and it's inevitable that at some point the team will hit a bad patch, but if and when that happens all the things that I've just talked about will come into play to ensure that they come out the other side with the same mindset.
City are now facing another tough run of fixtures, but with the quality and spirit that they are showing it would be very difficult to bet against them. However, if they can develop the ruthlessness to kill teams off when they're dominating it will take even more to stop Farke's men.