The time is 4pm, and I’ve just parked at Didcot Parkway railway station. I’ve driven from Manchester – my new home for the following year – and am about to hop on the fast service to Reading to meet my brother before the game. As I wait for my train, I choose to check Twitter and update myself on the afternoon’s City-related developments.
Straight away, the news that Onel Hernandez has a hernia injury and requires surgery dominates my timeline. Like the rest of the NCFC community, I’m struck with disbelief. As we’re all so acutely aware, Hernandez has been our prize asset so far this season, continually seeking to create and run at Championship defences with pace and purpose. Coupled with the pre-existing absence of Kenny McClean and captain Grant Hanley, the Hernandez news represented a considerable blow.
However, in the face of adversity and these far from desirable circumstances, Daniel Farke and his young squad dealt admirably. Up stepped Todd Cantwell, who – despite not being most fans’ choice as Hernandez’s replacement – demonstrated a remarkable sense of maturity, making tackles, winning the ball and driving forward to provide the clinical Teemu Pukki with the sort of service he thrives off.
The advent of Cantwell merely functioned as the latest instance of Farke’s shrewdness being vindicated, continuing a trend that really started at the Cardiff City Stadium three weeks ago. The German’s young starlets excelled that night in South Wales, fully justifying the trust he placed in them and securing a highly competent Carabao Cup victory.
Then came the derby, where Farke’s faith in his youthful talent was further legitimated. The precocious Max Aarons was superb that day, while Jamal Lewis similarly excelled at left-back and Ben Godfrey proved what an important defensive asset he could become. Further up the pitch, Emi Buendia – although not influencing the game enormously – also showed signs of promise.
Fast forward two weeks and the arrival of Middlesbrough. Farke opts to omit Jordan Rhodes and deploy Pukki as a lone striker, paving the way for Marco Stiepermann to feature at the heart of an attacking midfield trio. All of us who were present at what was a buoyant Carrow Road that day can surely testify that our head coach’s judgement was once again firmly vindicated, with Stiepermann starring and Pukki – who else? – scoring the winner.
And then came Reading. I must confess, I didn’t arrive at the Madejski instilled with my usual sense of optimism in light of the news concerning Hernandez. Although City’s overall performances have been characterised by a much greater sense of attacking fluidity this season, there’s no denying that it’s been the Cuban winger who has provided our most potent threat when we’re in possession.
But City adapted. While up against what appeared to be a largely mediocre Reading side who offered little going forward, this was an impressive away performance from Farke’s young team, controlling the ball for significant periods and rallying at 1-1 to restore their lead.
And, in bringing on Mario Vrancic midway through the second period, Farke saw his managerial shrewdness come to even further fruition. Our aesthetic Bosnian provided a midfield spark that City lacked for the vast majority of the half, proving to us all what a valuable player he has become following his slow Championship start at the beginning of last season.
Yes, City’s performance was good last night and yes, the players on the pitch did themselves proud, but let’s not look past Farke and the considerable boldness that has characterised his recent decisions. His faith in the club’s youth – fitting and pertinent, in light of the opening of the innovative Nest – has been fully repaid. His decision to move Pukki higher up the pitch to facilitate Stiepperman’s involvement has proved a success. And, last night, his skilful use of substitutions served to turn the game in City’s favour.
Sitting in 17th place, under mounting pressure and having just lost his captain for eight weeks, I feared that Farke may have crumbled. I feared that City would get outplayed at home to Boro and enter two important away games at Reading and Queens Park Rangers with confidence diminishing. However, what Farke has demonstrated since the beginning of September has been his ever-increasing skill as a head coach in England, trusting his instinct and making the bold decisions that have led to our recent upturn in form. Think Aarons, Stiepermann, Pukki’s position in the team and, most recently, Vrancic. Decisions that none of us faithful even really considered. The German deserves credit.
But so do those on the pitch. There were many outstanding displays from those in yellow and green last night, not least deriving from the maturing Christoph Zimmerman, the marauding Stiepermann and the industrious Pukki. Our flying Finn was my man of the match, taking his goal unerringly, never stopping running and providing us with an attacking outlet during the relative bombardment we faced during the second half. Forget the hosts’ nickname; Pukki is rapidly transforming himself into a Norwich City royal of his own.
But last night was a triumph for Farke. A triumph for his boldness in trusting his youth, a triumph for his game management, a triumph for his mental strength and resolve following what had been a largely underwhelming start to the season. Whisper it quietly, but an unbeaten run under his leadership is emerging. We travel to the capital on Saturday evening with confidence. Thank you, Daniel: my journey back from Didcot was a very happy one indeed.
Cyprus Canary says
A good read Will a lot of which I can agree with. I was one who said I would give Farke eight games to show his worth this season and although not in the effusive way you have written I think he has shown some improvement of late and earned the right to go on. I do wish he would stop whining about injuries though. At Reading only two players who would have been selected were missing Hanley (Zimmerman was brilliant) and Hernandez (Cantwell took his chance ). Up to now I have not been a Steiperman fan but look how much better he plays in the right position! Hopefully we will continue in the current form for a while to come. I want to hear what the General has to say.
General Melchett says
It is great to finally have a couple of wins to get excited about. And for the first time under Farke there appears to be a growing balance between attack and defence. For this he deserves some credit.
But I will keep my powder dry for a time yet before I proclaim Farke’s judgement vindicated or that he is now fully Championship savvy. Lets not forget that it was this time last year 9th Sept – 22nd Oct 2017 that we thought he had it cracked last season with 5 wins and 3 draws, (granted very few goals) before the wheels came off till Christmas and then a very uninspiring Feb-May.
One great win against a good and tough to beat Boro, a decent win against a very poor Reading side and a Draw with an even worse Binners team, is a start, nothing more.
If Farke’s game management is so good, how is it that once again when our possession control was slipping and perhaps a goal looked likely from our opponents we allowed the tide to continue until we then conceeded? 23 minutes of Reading getting more control of the game before he made a change. That change also didn’t wake them up until after they scored. This was not Leeds or Brentford, but a very poor Reading side. If we keep the ball better when winning what chance will they have? So for me game management has some way to go.
I am happy, that after a poor run of results we have finally got a couple of wins, but I can’t see the point at the Binners as anything other than 2 lost, they were terrible and there to have their belly tickled.
Keep winning and winning some handsome and then a believer I shall become.
Cyprus Canary says
Thanks General, I knew you could sum it up better than I could.
Stewart Lewis says
I’m pretty sure Kenny McLean would be a first choice. And possibly Pinto & Vrancic if fully fit.
Michael D says
Good article Will. And yes it’s good to see that after all the stick he’s had for the style of play that he has been attempting to ingrain in the team, Farkeball is finally beginning to pay off and show it’s potential. As per your article, one of the reasons it is beginning to pay off is in no small part down to the roles our exuberant youth are playing, revelling in the opportunities Farke has given them, coupled with the all round leadership are more ‘experienced’ team members are adding.
David Bowers says
I like a good (and unexpected) couple of wins as much as the next supporter. Sadly I was in the air for both of them.
But this is a bit far fetched..
“However, what Farke has demonstrated since the beginning of September has been his ever-increasing skill as a head coach in England”
At this point last year we had:
– The same amount of points
– The same league position
– More clean sheets
– Fewer goals conceded (even with Millwall)
The only area of improvement so far has been goals scored. Although this is still lower than Neil Adam’s period and Alex Neil’s season after relegation.
Let’s grab two more wins and go on a proper run. Then we can break out the superlatives.
If we win, then people say what a genius the manager’s team selection was. If we lose, he’s clueless. If we’re honest, Preston and Reading were two of the lowest quality performances that we have played all season, yet it is the points that matter at the end of the day. I don’t think I saw anyone correctly predict the line-up vs Boro and would’ve hounded him for dropping Rhodes/selecting Stiepermann etc. if they lost.
There are positive signs, of course. Krul and Leitner seem to be increasing in confidence after each game. Pukki is in top form and it’s great to have Rhodes as an option on the bench. We seem to have more of a balance between attack and defence and the unity in the squad is evident.
The main positive is the fact that the young players have been given a chance – and they’re taking it! We now have a clear pathway to the first team that football fans often cry out for. Lewis, Aarons, Godfrey and Cantwell have deservedly received many plaudits but it’s great to know that the likes of Idah, Spyrou, Philips, Abrahams, Power etc.will be managed properly and given a chance in the future. Webber deserves huge credit for implementing this structure and Farke also deserves massive credit for placing his trust in them – particularly when times are tough.
Hopefully we can keep up the momentum and push up into the playoffs!
Gary Gowers says
Excellent post Richie – agree with all if that.
Farke said that it was the best 20 mins or so that his team have played ( in the 1st half against Reading) listening to the Reading commentary they were not impressed with what they saw during that time. “Well they’ve just made another 20 or so passes across the back and gone nowhere” (seen that written and heard it before from our own pundits and fans). However, at that exact moment, the team moved up a few gears, ball was moved swiftly up the field, Cantwell delivered that pass and Pukki slotted. The Reading Team was manipulated, moved and opened up by those endless passes around the back. As these young guns get more experienced they will get better and better at this. Still get scared when Zim and Klose try a pass in field ( I want Godfrey in there) but they are moving it faster and with more purpose. When Hernandez and Marshal play they do so with width and crosses – Jordan Rhodes plays up front, Pukki behind – they can play 3 at the back – or 2 up front. They are adaptable and intelligent footballers as a squad. We should be excited by all this, they won’t get it right all of the time but being so young I for one will forgive them that. QPR to come, Super Mario Vrancic on the cone back and many more players coming through. The best is yet to come, Come On City!
Gary Gowers says
Another excellent post Spud