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Robin Sainty: Why Norwich City can afford to be second best

PUBLISHED: 07:00 02 February 2019

Billy Sharp under pressure from Norwich City's Christoph Zimmermann during the 2-2 draw at Carrow Road 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Billy Sharp under pressure from Norwich City's Christoph Zimmermann during the 2-2 draw at Carrow Road Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

While Chris Wilder has assumed the role of pantomime villain for many City fans it's only fair to give him credit for the development of a team which resembles the footballing equivalent of a cockroach in terms of their apparent indestructability.

Billy Sharp scored from the penalty spot for Sheffield United Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdBilly Sharp scored from the penalty spot for Sheffield United Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

They’re not pretty to watch, nor particularly sophisticated, but Wilder has managed to make the whole considerably greater than the sum of the parts and imbued the team with his own sheer bloody mindedness.

Lesser sides would have crumbled in the face of City’s sublime build-up play in the first half and the ease with which their defence was sliced open for Onel Hernandez’s opener, and they could also have dropped their heads when Teemu Pukki produced a goal out of nothing against the run of play in the second half, but Wilder’s team hung in there and thoroughly deserved their point.

It’s very easy as a football fan to underestimate the quality of the opposition and Saturday evening’s post mortems saw plenty of reaction along the lines of “two points dropped” and “now we have to go to Leeds and win”. I disagree with both statements.

Whilst it’s frustrating to be ahead twice and not win, particularly at home, this was a game that City could easily have lost, given their surprising lack of intensity in the second half, but ultimately they still remain three points clear of Wilder’s team.

Of course, the result benefited Leeds who could open a significant gap between themselves and City with a win on Saturday afternoon, but the promotion places are decided in early May, not early February, and, if I’m being completely honest, I’d be just as happy going up in second place as I would if City won the league.

There is an awfully long way to go, as Daniel Farke consistently points out, and there will be many more highs and lows, but the basic fact is that City have actually done remarkably well with a young and inexperienced back four and in the absence of their main playmaker and defensive midfield lynchpin in recent weeks, both situations that are soon to be remedied with the imminent return of Timm Klose, Alex Tettey and Moritz Leitner for a run of games that after today look considerably less daunting.

Whichever way you look at it, City are in a healthy position with the final third of the season in sight so I’m not going to worry too much about last week’s result or, indeed, this weekend’s.

What is a genuine cause for concern though are the number of goals which can be put down to individual errors. While City’s style of play will always mean that they will be vulnerable to swift counters, poor marking is something that can and must be eradicated because it will always be punished unmercifully by strikers of the quality of Billy Sharp.

That said, after the bore-fests that were served up so often last season how can we complain too much about what is currently being put in front of us? City’s attacking play can be absolutely exhilarating, and some of the one-touch moves on Saturday were outstanding, so much so that there was one occasion in the first half when fans were standing spontaneously to applaud a passing move that had resulted in a corner.

In fact the progress that has been made since September has been so rapid that it’s easy to forget that City’s squad is highly inexperienced compared to the likes of Leeds, Derby, West Brom and Sheffield United, so the surprise is not so much that they’ve had a lean spell, but rather that they have hung in as well as they have.

Whether they can last the course remains to be seen, but wherever they stand when May comes around some of the football we’ve seen this season will live long in the memory.

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