Robin Sainty: Norwich City relishing the challenge of adversity
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Anyone wanting a perfect snapshot of this new, vibrant Norwich City need only look at the highlights of Saturday's game.
Having first neutralised and then squeezed the life out of a Nottingham Forest side that had started like a runaway train, City were deep into injury time and looking to run down the clock.
Todd Cantwell won the ball just inside his own half and carried it forward. The more experienced Mario Vrancic moved outside him clearly looking to take the ball into the corner. However, in a blur of yellow and green, Jamal Lewis sprinted 30 yards from his left-back position into the gap created by Vrancic's movement, took Cantwell's pass and forced a save from Costel Pantilimon in the Forest goal.
It wasn't necessarily the right thing to do, but it summed up the confidence and sheer joie de vivre that now runs through the team, and particularly the younger players.
Nothing seems to phase this squad, whether it be falling behind or suffering the absence of key players, and Jordan Rhodes' interview after Tuesday's game in which he talked about the feeling of warmth and togetherness that he's experienced in the City dressing room gave an insight into the sort of environment that has been created by Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber.
Forest's first sell-out crowd in four years initially made for an intimidating atmosphere on Saturday, and once the home side had taken the lead and hit the woodwork in the first 15 minutes a lesser team might have crumbled, but City simply stuck to their system, quietened the crowd, and eventually won the game at a relative canter.
And there's the difference between this squad and last season's in a nutshell. Last year City only very rarely managed to rally in the face of adversity, but this group of players seem to positively relish a challenge.
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We saw that again against Villa on Tuesday. Despite the loss of Alex Tettey shortly before the game and having to adjust to the different skill-set provided by Tom Trybull, City still looked slick, and while they lacked a cutting edge in the first half could consider themselves unlucky to go in at the break trailing to James Chester's deflected header.
However, despite Villa trying to take the sting out of the game after half-time, City's relentless passing and movement ground them down, topped off by the predatory finishing of Rhodes.
That was well-earned reward for two utterly selfless performances in which his work rate off the ball was exceptional, as was his ability to hold the ball up and bring team-mates into the game. The way in which he and Marco Stiepermann consistently applied pressure to Villa's centre-backs set the tone for City's pressing game and was a perfect example of defending from the front.
There are many good things about the club at the moment, not least the fact that the accounts have now confirmed how well the ship has been steered through difficult financial waters (and huge credit must go to Steve Stone for that), but perhaps the most pleasing is the way that the fans have bought into Farke and his team this season.
The level of support on Tuesday was excellent, particularly after Villa's goal, but the way in which the crowd sensed the need to lift the players in the interminable injury time caused by the injury to the unfortunate Louis Thompson and responded with a barrage of noise was outstanding.
That sort of support allied to the combination of technical excellence and flair that we're seeing on the pitch could be a winning combination in a league that once again looks wide open, but it's important that expectations are managed, particularly for such a young team. However, with some big players on the way back from injury there are good reasons to be optimistic.