Every season has its twists and turns, but I can’t think of another one quite like this.
If I’d somehow been incommunicado for the past two-and-a-half months – say, abducted by aliens for sexual experimentation – the first thing to do on returning would of course be to check the Championship table.
Unlike my time with the aliens, it wouldn’t be much of a shock. Our 22 points from 13 games would be on the positive side of expectations, the goal difference would look a bit dodgy – but overall City’s place in the current table would be no great surprise.
However, the way we’ve arrived there is stunning.
I have the honour of being part of Nick Conrad’s Friday preview rota on Radio Norfolk. He’s the easiest of people to talk to, but I know there’s a nasty moment coming up when I’ll be asked to predict the result of the next day’s game.
My record this season is hopeless – and not just on my Radio Norfolk days, but every week. If my general prediction of where we’d be after 13 games was decent, there’s hardly an individual game I’d have got right.
Probably two of the thirteen: I thought we’d beat QPR and Birmingham at Carrow Road. Beyond that, chaos. I reckoned we’d beat Burton, Bristol City and Hull at home, and had a feeling we’d win at Villa. In contrast, I had us down for defeats at Fulham, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Reading.
A monkey picking results at random would have far outperformed me.
Of course, our league season so far falls into two distinct periods. The present AD era (“After the Den”) could hardly be more different from the first five games.
The ‘Goals for’ column would suggest a deterioration: we scored six in the first five games, only seven in the eight games since. But it’s of course the other side that tells the story. In the first five games we conceded 12; in the eight games since, a total of two.
Two goals conceded in eight games? Even with the facts in front of me, I can scarcely believe it. We didn’t replace Daniel Farke with Jose Mourinho while I wasn’t looking, did we?
After Millwall we splashed out on Grant Hanley, of course. As I caught up in detail with what I’d missed during my abduction, though, I’d have realized he’s barely been on the pitch. Curiouser and curiouser.
There’s been much speculation about the discussion between Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke after Millwall. Did Stuart, as some have suggested, read the Riot Act to his Head Coach?
I’m not privy to what passed between them. Both were upset and – I’m happy to say – clear that something had to change. I’d guess, though, that it may have been a more collaborative conversation than has been suggested.
When we spoke to Stuart Webber in May about the Sporting Director role, he made some points which, when you think about them, are obvious.
A key one is that, in the traditional structure, the manager is isolated. He carries the can for team selection and performance, coaching, player signings and departures, youth development, dealing with agents and a pile more. Yet he has no-one of stature in the club with football expertise to talk things through, to get a second opinion, to share the load.
Having a Sporting Director to offer that support, especially if the chemistry and trust between the two is strong, is surely a massive help for the manager/Head Coach to make the right decisions. And that’s how it now seems to be at Norwich.
So where do we go from here?
For all our justified enthusiasm, there’s an immediate challenge. Our last four home games have been against Birmingham, Burton, Bristol City and Hull. Not perhaps the most formidable opposition, but we’ve only managed to score twice in those four games.
The imminent visits of Derby and Wolves represent a chance to sustain the momentum and consolidate our place in the top six. We’ll have Carrow Road roaring us on. But we simply have to be more potent going forward than in the last few games.
Perhaps Gary and I are right that it’s about moving the ball forward more quickly; perhaps it’s other factors. If the admirable Cameron Jerome has to carry on leading the line, we surely need to work on improving the service to him, especially from the flanks.
Gary and I are not the coaches, though (a good thing, even Gary and I would readily concede) [You’re not wrong, Ed]. I was disappointed not to see more discernible change in our approach between Burton and Hull – but I’ve faith that Daniel Farke and his team will have ideas to get the balance right.
The table at this stage can be highly misleading in terms of the final outcome. Last time we won promotion in 2014-15, Derby and Forest looked favourites at this point, with Norwich and Middlesbrough hovering. In the event Bournemouth and Watford took the automatic promotion spots, with Derby and Forest nowhere to be seen.
I think I remember what happened to Norwich and Boro.
The good news is that, as our players and coaches gain ever more first-hand experience of the Championship and of each other, we can expect to get stronger. It may still be hard to predict our results week by week, but the underlying direction feels pretty good to me.
Daniel Farke says he works every day to create something special at Norwich. I have a feeling he may just do it.