I try my best to avoid the trap of finding parallels between the start of this season and September/October 2018 – the club is, after all, in a very different place right now – but how was it possible to ignore Marco Stiepermann splitting the Brizzle defense wide open for Teemu Pukki’s opener yesterday in a move straight out of the 2018/19 playbook?
Answer: It wasn’t.
Throw into the mix Pukki’s all-round game bearing more than a passing resemblance to an early-2019 vintage, Emi Buendia hitting a 2019-19 vibe, and the look and feel of a team that can carve open chances for fun, and it’s not just us who’d be well advised to note the similarities.
Thankfully, goals numbers two and three had a more contemporary look with, firstly, Jacob Sorensen and then Ben Gibson using their favoured feet to hit raking killer-passes that again opened up an oddly generous Robins’ defence.
While Pukki’s finish for the second owed a bit to a slight deflection, Buendia’s for the third was a thing of beauty, made all the more special by it being something of a rarity. He’s been so close to opening his account for the season, including five minutes earlier and at Brentford on Tuesday, so Emi wasn’t the only one buzzing to see one of such quality hit the net.
In a team of good players, he’s our special one. Let’s enjoy him for the next couple of months and hope, come January, we’re in a position where Stuart Webber can successfully spin him the ‘give us until the end of the season’ line.
But it wasn’t just about Emi, as pivotal as he undoubtedly is, as it was an all-round team performance that brought together all the good things we’d seen over the opening eight games and suppressed most of the not-so-good-stuff, like the defensive cock-ups.
It wasn’t of course without its moments – we’re Norwich City after all – but a soft goal courtesy of some switching off and a Nahki Wells ‘Panenka’ that sailed over the Clifton Suspension Bridge shouldn’t detract from what was an accomplished 90+ minutes – the best of the season by some way.
Daniel Farke – the target of several brickbats over games one to eight – has to take some of the credit and his decision to retain the very right-footed Sorensen at left-back to keep the team disruption to a minimum, while counter-balancing it with the pace and thrust of Przemysław Płacheta was one that paid off nicely.
By adding Płacheta to the starting XI, City still retained some attacking impetus down that left side whereas a Sorensen/Cantwell combo would have offered only limited thrust by virtue of the latter’s natural tendency to drift inside.
And fair play to the Pole. In addition to the searing turn of pace we already know about – and which we’re yet to find a really effective use for – he offered some reliable and energetic support to Sorensen when it was needed.
Some better decision-making from Placheta late on, with Bristol City throwing numbers forward, could have seen a fourth – either for him or Pukki – but while it didn’t happen, it did demonstrate perfectly what an asset he will be on this type of away day.
He’s given Farke a conundrum of the good kind.
Tim Krul too deserves a mention. He’s one of those we’re in danger of taking for granted, such is his consistency and excellence, but his non-flamboyant style can’t disguise what a brilliant keeper and, even more importantly, character he is for this team.
The save at 2-1 was, of course, crucial but equally important was the psychological pressure he heaped on Wells as he took aim for the suspension bridge. By the time he strode up to strike the ball, Tim’s reputation and helpful advice would have rendered that goal less than half its actual size.
We stress over how to fill Buendia-shaped holes in the squad but there’s an argument to be had around any Krul-shaped void being even more difficult to fill.
For a useful snapshot of his influence on the group, I’d recommend a quick look at the club’s The City View video of the Brentford game, where they give us a behind-the-scenes insight. Fast forward to 5:50 and you’ll see what I mean.
Also worthy of a mention is the ever-burgeoning partnership between Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson. Both, for different reasons, have needed game time to find their best level but both are now approaching it, as well as developing a good understanding of each other’s qualities.
They look like a partnership.
While clean sheets haven’t been especially plentiful and we’ve had the usual array of defensive calamities, almost unnoticed we’ve jogged along at less than one goal per game conceded. That in itself is quite the turnaround and can only bode well.
So, one of the good days, albeit against a team who were surprisingly, even by our standards, a bit delicate (it’s not often I write that).
They were also a team who had a go and allowed us to play – another helpful trait – but were despatched in a way that’s become almost alien.
Let’s not shout about it, but this is promising.