After a couple of sobering results on the road and that excruciating home defeat to Villa, City emerged from that poor run with a hard-earned point away from home and a clean sheet to boot, drawing 0-0 with Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.
The injury crisis seems to be subsiding too – Alex Tettey, Tom Trybull, Tim Krul and Onel Hernandez all played a part in the game with the team looking far more solid as a result.
Pre-match you would have been hard pressed to find a fan or pundit – myself included – who thought the game would end goalless, but after the humbling defeats of the past month I’d have snapped your hand off for a dreary 0-0 before the game.
It was a game that City grew into and by the time Aaron Ramsdale pulled off a top quality save to deny Teemu Pukki his seventh of the season, the City faithful would have been forgiven for thinking their team were going to snatch all three points, but it wasn’t to be.
I’ve never been so excited to wait until the end of Match of the Day just to watch a single highlight from the first half and a cameo performance from Hernandez in the dying minutes.
In reality, it wasn’t so dreary. Norwich out-passed the Cherries with 469 passes to their 407, resulting in 53% of possession with a pass accuracy of 80%. It was a good away-from-home performance.
However, the primary source of encouragement came in the form of the clean sheet. For weeks now I have been writing in this column of City’s inability to keep it tight at the back early on in games, the first 25 minutes in particular.
There is a direct correlation between the Canaries seeing out the early stages of games and picking up points.
This goes back to the very first game of the season at Anfield in which it took just seven minutes for Liverpool to take the lead. Chelsea then took just three minutes to score at Carrow Road, with Crawley needing just 17 to register a goal in the Carabao Cup meeting.
In the other defeats, West Ham scored their first goal in the 24th minute, Burnley needed just 10, Palace on 21 and Villa opened their account after 14 minutes.
The eagle-eyed will notice that there are games missing from that list – Newcastle, Manchester City and Bournemouth. These are the only games in which City have seen out at least the majority of the first half without conceding – they also happen to be the only games Norwich have taken points from.
Keeping it tight at the back early on in games is of paramount importance at this level.
Post-match, Daniel Farke was quick to praise the team for taking a big step in terms of an away point and clean sheet, and rightly so when you consider Ibrahim Amadou and Alex Tettey played 40 minutes as a centre-back pairing.
At this point, it’s worth praising Amadou individually. The Frenchman hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to his City loan spell – it’s been somewhat of a baptism of fire – but it was a different story against Bournemouth.
The whole defence did its job and the presence of Krul behind them undoubtedly settled some nerves, but Amadou was the standout performer.
Having won five aerial duels and made 13 clearances, the new recruit from Sevilla is starting to highlight why the club were so keen to add him to the squad.
Having to essentially learn a new position whilst adapting to a foreign league, a better league, is no easy task and after a costly individual error at Palace and the fledgling partnership he has formed with Ben Godfrey being tested ruthlessly against Burnley and Aston Villa, it’s been an uphill battle.
But to pick himself up after that and put in a performance of quality at Bournemouth is admirable and certainly deserves praise. He was colossal.
I briefly mentioned Onel Hernandez’s return to the squad, and I’d like to revisit that. He didn’t play many minutes on Saturday, but he certainly made an impression and offered a timely reminder of what he can bring to the team.
On one occasion, having won possession close to the half-way line, the Cuban darted down the wing and fired in the cross that eventually led to Tom Trybull’s long range effort. Onel later set a chance up for Teemu Pukki.
In the few minutes he was on the field, Hernandez caused the Cherries problems, providing the turn of pace and mazy dribbles which can unsettle defences even at this level.
All-in-all an encouraging performance and a deserved away point that gives the Canaries something to build upon. And (*crosses everything*) it does feel that the worst of the injury crisis is behind us.
A very-average Manchester United are up next at Carrow Road.
United are winless in four games and face a midweek trip to Belgrade in the Europa League before turning their attentions turn to Norwich. Carrow Road will smell blood and likely drum up an atmosphere similar to the Manchester City game.
If they can keep it tight at the back early on, it could just be there for the taking.