Robin Sainty: Norwich City resurgence feels like the real thing this time
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When you lose at home but leave the field to rapturous applause and On the Ball City ringing around the ground you must be doing something right.
While last Saturday proved a bridge too far for a City team which lacked nothing in effort but couldn't quite scale the heights of previous performances the progress that has been made over the last three weeks was rightly recognised by the home fans.
On the day of the Middlesbrough game I closed my column with these words: 'There is no doubt in my mind that City have a squad that is more than capable of being very competitive in this league but I would be the first to admit that opinion is based more on instinct than empirical evidence so far, and with seven games coming up in the next three weeks the pressure will be well and truly on for Daniel Farke and his players to show that they can produce the goods.'
I think we now have that empirical evidence and it's great to see how strongly the bond between head coach, players and fans has been reforged.
The pace of City's play has increased, they are entertaining the crowd and, most importantly, they are playing with bravery and passion, and that's what people pay to see.
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The Stoke game was just one of those days that happen in football when nothing quite falls for you, and, to be fair, the visitors defended superbly after their moment of good fortune when Timm Klose found his own net.
There is no doubt that City lacked a bit of sharpness, but while some people have criticised Farke for not making changes after such an intensive run of games, I'm sure that a similar number would have castigated him for breaking up a winning team if he had. It's not easy being a football manager!
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For once I'm actually pleased to see an international break as it will allow some sorely-needed recovery time for some of the City squad, and it allows us all to draw breath and assess the last few weeks.
I suspect that few of us would have dared anticipate the mature performances that have been produced by Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell or how solid City's defence has been without Grant Hanley.
Perhaps less surprising is the way in which Tim Krul has shaken off his early-season ring rustiness to become the commanding figure that we all hoped the club had secured, but perhaps the most pleasing aspect of the recent run has been the emergence of Moritz Leitner as the on-field general that his pedigree always suggested he could be.
No one doubts his ability on the ball, and his passing is a joy to watch, but what he's added to his game is a physicality which wasn't always apparent last season. That has allowed Farke to break up the successful partnership between Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull and play with just the one holding midfielder against even the more physical sides in the Championship without fear of City being overpowered.
That adjustment, and the fact that City are much better at keeping possession this season, even when subjected to a high press, has meant that the team looks much more fluid with players invariably receiving the ball while on the move and facing the opposition's goal rather than when static and facing their own.
Despite the surprise departure of Steve Stone, who did a great job as managing director, the news that Louis Thompson, Jamal Lewis and Aarons have signed long-term contracts has ensured that this week has continued the upbeat mood, and reconfirms Farke's and Stuart Webber's commitment to youth, something that has been a major factor in James Maddison winning his first full England call-up this week.
We saw false dawns last season, but this feels like the real thing.