The Walks has changed quite a bit since my playing days. In the late 1980s it was getting pretty run down as the club struggled from one financial crisis to another, which would ultimately culminate in a coup de grace from HMRC in 2009 as a result of an unpaid tax bill.
The pitch was a quagmire in winter, a desert in spring and training nights couldn’t start until some intrepid individual had been despatched into the darkness to open up the hut in the far corner that housed the floodlight switches. We even had medicine balls in the gym……
However, since its reformation in 2010 both the club and the ground itself has seen constant improvements and so it was fitting that it should be the venue for our first look at the Norwich City class of 2018/19.
Nothing much can be read into the early stages of pre-season, and City’s squad had a number of noticeable absentees with the likes of Kenny McLean, Emi Buendia and Ben Marshall held back for Tuesday’s game at Lincoln. But it was a chance to see some of the new players and look for clues about how Daniel Farke’s approach may change this year.
In the latter respect, I’m not sure that we learnt much with City dominating possession at a relaxed pace and playing lots of neat triangles without really creating chances. Credit is due to Lynn who looked a well-drilled and composed outfit with new boss Simon Clark clearly looking to build on the passing style that Ian Culverhouse developed last season.
It was good to see Sean Raggett in a City shirt and he looked very comfortable in a back-three alongside Timm Klose and Christian Zimmermann, although they weren’t tested too much in the first half. However, the interesting thing for me was the different option offered by Felix Passlack at wing back. While he is clearly still finding his feet in England after only a week, he looked solid defensively but more importantly looked a real threat going forward.
Unlike Ivo Pinto, whose forward excursions tend to be exclusively up and down the wing, the more attack-minded Passlack often looks to free his winger and then cut inside to look for a square ball and a potential shooting opportunity.
Teemu Pukki, while clearly building up fitness also offers another dimension. He’s quick, strong and showed some neat touches as well as good awareness of those around him. Interestingly, he played slightly deeper than Dennis Srbeny but got himself into good positions in the box.
The other debutant, Remi Matthews, had virtually nothing to do, and had no chance with Lynn’s goal following a marking mix up at the far post – but for me the stand out performer was Onel Hernandez, whose pace and trickery caused Lynn all sorts of problems as he tormented both fullbacks and got decent crosses in.
Anyone expecting Moritz Leitner to adopt the James Maddison role will be disappointed as the German clearly feels more comfortable dropping deep to pick up the ball from his defenders and initiate passing moves. I suspect that Kenny McLean may well turn out to be the midfielder who most closely resembles Maddison’s style.
The game suddenly went up a notch on the hour when Farke fielded an entire team of youth and under-23 players supplemented by Yanic Wildschut, and the increased directness and pace of City’s approach started to tear holes in Lynn’s previously comfortable defence.
Adam Idah showed his potential both as a provider in setting up the equaliser for Devonte Aransibia and then as a finished in scoring the winner himself after good work from Wildschut, but Adam Phillips and Max Aarons also stood out. So too did Anthony Spyrou until he limped off with a slight sprain.
Overall Farke will be pleased to get a pipe opener out of the way without any significant injuries, and while City’s senior players understandably looked a little heavy legged after ten days or so of double sessions aimed at building stamina, there were some promising signs.
Nevertheless, as the pre-season programme continues there will be an expectation that more end product will be on display and we will all be waiting expectantly for the arrival or another striker.
No-one should read too much, either positive or negative, into last night’s game, although I’m sure that there will be people wailing on the Facebook forums about how a failure to score ten against a very good non-league team is conclusive proof that relegation beckons. We will learn much more as pre-season continues and we see more of the squad in action.