Monkeys are irresistible creatures, aren’t they? Mischievous. Cute. Entertaining. They are one of nature’s entertainers. Unless you have one on your back. Then they are an annoyance. Draining. Morale sapping.
It came as something of a relief when Norwich City took the opportunity against Huddersfield to throw off the one it’s been grappling with since February.
A workmanlike performance against a backdrop of old mills and historic industry in West Yorkshire didn’t set pulses racing, but there was widespread relief across the Canary Nation the 12-match losing streak was over – and that pesky primate was given the heave-ho.
The task is to now launch an unbeaten run, with the emphasis on winning, in front of a thousand eager City fans returning to the Rud. It’ll be the first time supporters have parked their backsides in the plastic seats since the dearly departed Jamal Lewis struck an arrow of a shot diagonally across Kasper Schmeichel and into the net to beat Leicester City on 28th February.
While that pre-pandemic memory seems like years ago, having Alex Neil as Canaries manager feels like it belongs to a different lifetime. He helped us into the top-flight with victory at Wembley and there is seemingly no ill feeling between the Scot and Delia despite his sacking, so his returns to Carrow Road bring no fanfare, friction or fireworks.
However, his North End side do have the capability to play the role of unpopular party pooper at our small-scale, socially distant, Covid-secure ‘welcome home’ bash.
A last-minute 2-1 win for Preston over the club formerly known as Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the Carabao Cup earlier this week followed a frustrating 1-0 home defeat to Swansea on the opening day.
While the loss to the Swans didn’t register on the footballing Richter scale, it was notable for being a bit of a smash and grab – the Welsh side scored with its only shot on target. Stats and reports suggest PNE outfought and out passed Steve Cooper’s side, created the most opportunities and held the majority of the possession.
With Tom Barkhuizen up top and the highly rated Daniel Johnson in midfield, the Lancastrians shouldn’t really be quite as toothless as they are – the former’s goal against Derby shows just how powerful and accurate his shooting can be. However, not getting the goals the team deserves is a recurring issue under Neil’s management.
Johnson scored 12 goals last season but may not feature against City – rumours of a move to Glasgow Rangers has seen him seemingly fall out of favour with wee Alec. And by all accounts this has led to the side becoming unsettled and unbalanced in terms of team shape. While it doesn’t lack anything in terms of industry and effort, Neil’s side often falls short when it comes to breaking down a well-organised or obdurate defensive line.
The clash with North End is going to be a step up in terms of difficultly from the test Huddersfield offered. The similarity is that it will be another workout from a physical, organised and motivated unit – but certainly one that doesn’t offer the firepower City succumbed to in the Premier League on a regular basis.
On last Saturday’s viewing, Daniel Farke’s 2020/21 line-up have the potential to do well this season. There certainly needs to be improvement on what was served up at the John Smith’s stadium, but there were encouraging signs in a team display that was solid – but certainly not spectacular.
Tim Krul, bar one full stretch dive to his right in the second half from a Josh Koroma shot, didn’t have to be called into action. In front of him, Ben Godfrey showed that his pace will intimidate Championship strikers – as well as cover the errors of his teammates. Utterly essential when you feel that Christoph Zimmerman isn’t quite back to his 2018/19 best and might have a number of errors in his locker.
The standout for me in the backline was Xavi Quintilla. Replacing Lewis isn’t going to be easy and he will find the Championship relentless and incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally. Yet there was nothing to say the Spaniard will not be able to grow into the left-back slot and make it his own. I’m overjoyed to see a City player clear the first man with a corner again – his set-pieces look to be top drawer and I hope to see the rare, lesser-spotted, header from a corner kick returning to roost regularly at Carrow Road.
You can’t buy chemistry between players – it either happens or it doesn’t. There were signs Oliver Skipp and Kenny McLean could work together in the centre of the pitch, but I will need to be convinced they can work in tandem over a full season.
While Spurs’ captain of the future, as described by Jose Mourinho, turned in a performance that saw him grow in stature as the game progressed, Kenny showed a few neat flashes of what he can do. That partnership will need to take another step forward and show greater control this weekend if they’re going to stand-out as the season’s first-choice midfield pairing.
The most advanced three didn’t exude confidence and swagger from kick-off, but they showed enough to suggest they will fire soon. The spark could well be the return of Emi Buendia this weekend – but the fact his team won a game without him for the first time shows progress is being made.
There were moans and groans on social media about Teemu Pukki’s performance – though quite why that was the case, I’ve got no idea. Like many of his colleagues, he has been off his 2018/19 pace. He’s a confidence player and there was enough in his movement and pace to suggest it’s returning.
The Finn’s anticipation of Richard Stearman’s back pass, break into the box, skill to dump another defender on his backside, and square the ball for Adam Idah to pulverise the winner showed we’re all closer to receiving invites to another Pukki Party soon.
With Teemu rediscovering his mojo, Buendia back, Skippy bouncing across midfield, Godfrey in beast mode, and the fans returning, let’s hope one thing stays away from Carrow Road on Saturday – that meddlesome monkey.
I’m backing City to build on their opening day win and stop it from quickly hopping on the team’s back again.
VERY Good read, who will make way for Emi? Dowell would be my guess, Also think those who fought for those 3 points deserve another crack at starting. There is nothing like a settled side jiggle around to find best selection, then barring injuries and suspensions, try to leave alone
Martin Betts says
My only addition would be Emi, but expect Farke to start him on the bench.
Colin B says
Nice piece Martin. It would be great to have two clean sheets in a row. If there is a change to the team then Buendia will come in for Dowell but like you I think he will keep the same starting 11. It would also be hard to drop anyone from the bench as well for Buendia.
Still see there is plenty of speculation about Buendia leaving.
Martin Betts says
Buendia’s future is unclear but City hold the Tarot cards – nothing that happens should come as a surprise.
martin penney says
A good read on a fairly miserable morning – I’m still sore about the cricket!
For me it would be Emi in for Todd – but I’d love to see Placheta involved from the start.
I’m not partaking in the ballot. It just wouldn’t be the same to go under those restrictive circumstances. That’s just my view – I bet plenty of us are willing to try their luck.
Martin Betts says
Thanks, Martin. Don’t mention the cricket! I’m in the ballot because I’ve just missed being at Carrow Road so much. It won’t be the same, but if there’s a small chance to watch a game then I’ll take it.
Hi Martin B
After the disappointing loss last night to the Aussies your article has cheered me up somewhat.
Full agree with you on all matters but with the Emi interview during the week just maybe he is definitely on his way out so might spend more time bench warming than any of us anticipate be to prevent injury or bookings.
Living on the Fylde Coast for the last 30+ years about a mile from Bloomfield Rd I have seen the rivalry between PNE and Blackpool supporters and know how much they love to see the other side get beaten no matter what league they are in so my neighbours will like me be cheering city on to a 2 – 1 win
Onwards and upwards
Stay safe and stay healthy
Martin Betts says
I’m a former resident of Preston and stood on the terraces at Deepdale when David Moyes was boss. I have a soft spot for them, but it doesn’t extend to Saturday! I’d take any win!
A quirky bit of History – as the story goes Preston gave Spurs their first football stripe as there was a clash between both London clubs wearing red.
My son’s in-laws support PNE so he will get grief if they win
Emi for Todd, IF Emi is to play. Personally, I wouldn’t change it.
And having some fans back is a very welcome step in the right direction. Just so long as they don’t behave in the way some of our “supporters” have been on Twitter this week…
martin penney says
I don’t really know all the ins and outs of the Twitter incident you refer to but from what I’ve seen of it it’s totally unwarranted and uses a word the rest of us don’t. Even if we’re referring to 1p5wich.
It wouldn’t bother me if I was in that top 250 or whatever [maybe I am, I don’t do Twitter] but it’s just gratuitously nasty, small minded and some sad git with an over-inflated sense of his influence in mummy’s spare bedroom switching between pornhub and trolling.
Jeez I feel better for posting that 🙂
Keith B says
Well I’m glad the club’s doing this. It may not sound like the greatest experience anyone will have had at Carrow Rd but it’s a small and necessary step forward. I see Luton applied, were approved, and then realised they hadn’t actually done the necessary preparation to make it possible.
They shouldn’t so it by ballot though. Anyone wanting to attend should send in a video of themselves singing OTBC. The loudest and most tuneful should be picked and anyone who sings scrummage instead of scrimmage should have their season ticket revoked without compensation.
In normal circumstances I would be heading east right now, as would my brother-in-law and friend from Penwortham (south Preston), with our wives/partners*, for a long weekend in the fine city. Mind you having witnessed over the years flapper Marshall being beaten from the half-way line and Hoolihan’s imitation of my granny taking a penalty, dinner with rivals afterwards hasn’t always been as enjoyable as it might be….
*Just to be clear that’s only one wife or partner each
Re. Emi, I’d not start him until after the window’s closed. If he can’t get a move before then I think he will give of his best; but whilst one’s still a possibility I don’t think he’ll be giving 100%. It’s not like he needs to put himself in the shop window – any PL club or overseas suitors will look at the stats and videos from last season, not this.
Jim Davies says
Keith, in addittion to the scrimmage/scrummage test, anyone who sings it at excessive speed should also be banned.
I’ll be trying out the iFollow option. Got my promo code this afternoon, but can’t watch it on my iPad because I can’t update the iOS to the required level, but have figured out how to connect my phone to my computer, so I’ll watch it on there, since the screen is a decent size.