Football is weird isn’t it.
It was only six days ago that City were booed off at half-time for going in 1-0 down against Millwall. The boos were undeserved but they were undeniably there.
The game before that, against Brentford, saw the boos resonate at full-time amidst a groundswell of unrest, and the one before that – against Sheffield Wednesday – saw one Josh Murphy hooked at half-time in an act of kindness by Daniel Farke. He’d been terrible.
Yet here we are, only a few short days and weeks later and Josh is receiving his second standing ovation of the week, the team is applauded off the pitch and the mood, at least in relation to progress on the pitch, is one of positivity.
A 0-0 draw against the Premier League champions was quickly countered by the cynics with ‘they made nine changes’ but when we’re talking Chelsea that means international being replaced with international or superstar being replaced by wonderkid. A club that can afford to send 30+ players out elsewhere on loan won’t turn up here with an XI designed to do anything but win.
So lets not, on this occasion, give the doubters their moment. This was a good Norwich performance; not spectacular or sexy but one that did a job and did it well; conceived on the fields of Colney, tweaked at the last minute, and then executed almost to perfection in the heat of Carrow Road battle.
Of course we’re all left with a sense of regret over not having finished the job – Stamford Bridge will offer a rather sterner test – but let’s not underestimate the job those lads did last night against quality opponents. In its execution this was the Emirates minus the clinical finish on the break but with even more solidity at the back.
And on that basis we shouldn’t automatically write-off our chances on the King’s Road. What Team Farke have proven this season is that armed with a full squad and faced with quality opposition whom they anticipate will have more possession than us, they can set a side up to defend solidly while still offering a sporadic threat going forward.
In both cases, what we were faced with was a far cry from the blood and thunder of the Championship. Neither Arsenal or Chelsea had any intention whatsoever of ‘getting in our faces’, both instead happy to let us have a turn with the ball and only really engage when we enter the final third.
Perhaps therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that Farke’s patient, work-it-through-the-thirds style is a decent fit when the opposition allow us time and space.
The crux of it is finding that extra edge in the final third – the reason why good strikers cost multi-millions – but what was interesting was that Josh, with his extra yard of pace, was able to add some hitherto unseen thrust down the middle last night.
Whether that will work in the heat of Championship battle with the opposition sitting deep and in numbers is another question but it’s an alternative solution to the current problem; one alluded to in Robin Sainty’s excellent Pink Un column yesterday. Given the uncertainty around the futures of Nelson Oliveira and Cameron Jerome it’s one that has to be considered, be it Josh or a new face.
The three at the back is also one worthy of consideration as we move forward. With Sean Raggett now having joined our massed ranks of central defenders, there is certainly scope for giving it another go, particularly with Ivo Pinto and the excellent-again Jamal Lewis both being suited to that slightly more advanced role. It also permits, if the the coach chooses, to more easily accommodate the rarity of a front two.
Equally it may be one to have tucked up the collective sleeve when the situation dictates. It worked nicely last night because Chelsea too played with a three and we were able to match up with them but against a traditional 4-4-2, or a variation thereof, it can create as many problems as it solves, especially if the opposition play with traditional wingers. The wing backs then get forced to focus on defending, it quickly becomes a back five and it’s then difficult to get out.
I suspect this will form part of the Webber/Farke Monday debrief.
Perhaps too the future, or otherwise, of Alex Tettey will pop up in that same discussion because what becomes clearer with every kick is that at 31-years old, the Norwegian is at the peak of his powers. Since arriving here in 2012 he’s pretty much been part of every XI of every manager but invariably against the backdrop of ‘if we are to improve he’s one of those we’ll have to replace’. I’ve said it myself.
Even last summer, I was expecting him to form part of the exodus, to be perceived as dead wood who needed to be moved on to make way for the younger, hungrier (and cheaper) new world.
I would suggest that right now, if fit, he’s in first name on the team-sheet territory. He’s that vital to this team. The stats prove it.
Whether that will have any bearing on his Norwich City future is debatable. He’s a big earner whose last contract was signed while we were a Premier League club so, as far as Stuart Webber is concerned, the maths will likely prevail over his value to Daniel Farke. But he was excellent again last night, just as he has been every time he has pulled on the shirt this season. With him in that side, alongside Tom Trybull, we’re better than when either or both are absent… no debate.
What also became abundantly clear to anyone who watched last night’s game was the value to City of Messrs Maddison and Pritchard. With every clever pass, swivel, dropped shoulder and nutmeg, both enhance their burgeoning worth and reputations one notch further. And by worth I unfortunately mean to the money men.
That they bring quality to our play is undoubted, and we all saw a glimpse into the future without them at Burton, but the added value comes in terms of zeros in the bank account – and that’s my biggest fear.
Farke insists he’s under no direct pressure to sell in this window – and I believe him – but the sell-to-buy policy coupled with the financial black hole that awaits in May means Stuart Webber and Steve Stone have a duty to the company to consider every offer as it comes in.
With there clearly being no desire whatsoever from Michael and Delia to do anything pro-active to close said financial black hole, then a very good offer for either (or both) will likely see them depart the Fine City this month. And, hard as I try, everything that happens on the green stuff right now – even a well-deserved draw against the Premier League champions – is clouded by what’s potentially around the corner.
But that’s me… old grumpy is at it again.
On the plus side we’re in the hat for the Fourth Round – something that doesn’t happen every season – and we’re now unbeaten in four.
Football is still weird though.