It was disappointing – let’s not pretend otherwise – but yesterday’s 3-1 defeat at Kenilworth Road will hopefully have little bearing on what happens in six days’ time in Huddersfield.
That’s not to say it wouldn’t have given us all a much-needed boost. To have had 17 players unavailable is quite the mitigation, but the record books care not one jot and will show that City have lost 12 competitive games on the spin.
A club record.
And let’s not sugar coat it. That’s a problem.
We’ve yet to win a game in an empty stadium. ‘Behind-closed-doors’ and Norwich City are not happy bedfellows.
But it has to change.
Daniel Farke was quick, post-Luton, to play down talk of City being among the favourites for promotion, and I wouldn’t expect him to publicly say anything else, but he knows differently.
While the Little Norwich card is one that can be played ad nauseam in the Premier League, to try and use it in the Championship after winning that very same title 16 months ago and having been backed over this summer to the tune of eleven new players just isn’t going to wash.
Farke’s a smart guy. He knows expectation levels are now on a different level to anything he’s experienced in his time here, and he also knows the longer this horrid run of defeats continues, the more the pressure will build.
Defeat at Luton with the equivalent of a whole team and six subs missing is one thing – only the most negative could use that as a stick with which to beat Farke – but to lose at the John Smith’s Stadium with a full squad would be different.
In the great scheme of things, it would just be a loss at an away ground that’s notoriously tricky, but in the here and now it would represent a continuation of that run that I’m of tired of writing about.
The creation of a feelgood factor just a matter of weeks after suffering one of the club’s greatest humiliations has been quite the achievement – helped of course by eleven said additions – and can probably be added to Stuart Webber’s growing list of miracles, but once the action begins for real it could be undone very quickly.
If handled properly – and I’m sure it will be – the negative effect on morale by losing at Luton will be limited, but it was still a missed opportunity to inject some belief and confidence.
It was also a missed opportunity for those on the fringes who still had an outside chance of making next Saturday’s starting XI, albeit with a couple of notable exceptions.
At 18-years-old, Bali Mumba’s best City years may be further down the track, but in the midst of yesterday’s ordinary team performance he shone, and in the space of 90 minutes showed precisely why Webber made a beeline for Wearside when it became clear there was a chance of signing him.
Mumba admitted in an interview in the week that part of his challenge is learning quickly how to play in a Farkeball style, but yesterday’s display bore all the hallmarks of a quick learner; one who will be a very able deputy or, maybe, even a replacement for Max Aarons.
Early days of course but as competitive debuts go, that was right up there.
Kieran Dowell too did his chances of a start next Saturday no harm at all, particularly given the dearth of goals from midfield last season. While his overall display may have been hindered by the staccato nature of the performance, his goal was that of a classy finisher.
Whether his style would be better suited to the 10 role, meaning the Stiepi/Pukki axis would need to be broken up, is one for Team Farke to ponder but it’s clear Dowell is in the frame for a start in West Yorkshire.
What won’t have been lost on Farke and co, is the more-of-the-same approach to conceding soft goals. Regardless of the circumstances, to have shipped three – each of them laced with sloppiness – was a massive disappointment and also a reminder that however well you beef up the shield in front of the back four, the central defenders still have to defend.
Ben Gibson needs to get match-fit and quickly, but it’s a big turnaround that’s needed, and to rest it solely on the shoulders of a player who’s barely played in two seasons is a little unfair.
As those three quick-fire Luton goals flew in, painful memories of 2019/20 came flooding back. And they’re still raw. Lessons clearly haven’t been learned.
As I said above, the shield in front of the back-four looks to have undergone a significant upgrade, but the system still requires the defenders to do their jobs well. At the moment, that element is still missing.
News that Jamal Lewis is, apparently, Tyneside bound is yet to be confirmed by either club but is one that appears to have legs (and is also one that’s triggered Liverpool fans).
Given the recruitment in that area of the pitch, this is one departure for which the club is prepared and at least Jamal would get regular game time at St James’ Park, unlike Anfield. While Newcastle wouldn’t necessarily be my destination of choice if I were in the player’s shoes, if he’s keen on the move then we should all wish him well.
With still over a month to go before the transfer window closes, there’s still ample time for others to head for the Colney exit, and I get the feeling that once one departs, this may in turn hasten the departure of one or two others.
We have to prepare ourselves, although I also suspect there’ll be some eleventh hour bids coming in as Jim White girds his loins.
In terms of incoming, we must surely be done, so given the dearth of creativity yesterday, these next few weeks must include honing Farkeball so it can still operate without the maverick element provided by Emi Buendia.
He’ll be missing through suspension next week, but if he is to depart he will be the one to leave the biggest void. Yesterday highlighted that.
So, still work to be done but let’s first of all hope that those away on international duty return with limbs and spirit intact. That’d be a start. And let’s also hope the injury picked up by Timm Klose yesterday is of the minor, short-term variety.
And then all eyes turn to Huddersfield.