When Norwich City head coach Dean Smith took a seat at his press conference this morning he knew he’d be delivering news that nobody was ready for.
Just as Smith’s press conferences had started to take a positive turn, with increasingly regular messages of hope and optimism around the Canaries’ fight to stay in the Premier League, he dealt a killer blow.
“We’ve had some bad news about Adam (Idah),” he said. “He went in for an arthroscopy and then for a meniscus repair, he should be out for the season now.
“It’s a real blow and disappointing but it gives other players an opportunity now. It was in the game when he did it. He planted his foot and hurt his ankle and knee but played on. He felt a bit stiff on the following two days, and reported it to the medical staff.”
For almost everyone concerned, that was some of the worst news Smith will have to deliver as City boss. For his team, Idah’s injury represents the loss of a great source of attacking intent and quality, a striker who was becoming key to the tactical setup that had been most successful in recent games and a man in form who was expected to ease the burden on top scorer Teemu Pukki.
For the man himself, it means an excruciatingly frustrating end to a period when he’d just started to prove himself, just began to hit the levels he’d hoped he would.
Fans of Newcastle United, Burnley and Watford may not have cottoned on to the prowess of a man whose form had not quite been recognised the mainstream yet, but without knowing it they’re surely the only beneficiaries of the situation.
Even the Irish national team have missed out, with their desperate need of a goalscorer finally looking like being resolved before Idah’s fresh setback.
Smith and his charges will undoubtedly be disappointed, but there’s also certainty that they will already be looking for solutions, adapting to the ever-moving goalposts.
With Josh Sargent the only other recognised striker in the squad and also in impressive form, Smith must decide whether or not to deploy the American in Idah’s role. Sargent featured in a front two with Pukki under Farke but it’s effectiveness was hit and miss and the formation it was part of was a 5-3-2 instead of a 4-4-2.
The 21-year-old moving centrally would also leave a gaping hole on the right, where his unconventional physicality gave him an advantage over full-backs and his rarely questionable work rate protected Max Aarons.
There are a number of more conventional wingers available to fill that gap- Christos Tzolis and Jon Rose are natural replacements and Kieran Dowell is experienced from the right- but they have a combined total of 0 league goals and 0 league assists at present and none of them are as defensively capable as Sargent.
Alternatively, Smith may opt to keep Sargent wide in a 4-3-3, as he did in Manchester City’s 4-0 Carrow Road walkover. This would keep most of his players in their best positions, but it’s effectiveness at producing strong team performances is questionable at best.
The large majority of Norwich’s worst performances have come while using the 4-3-3, both under Smith and his predecessor Daniel Farke. Their summer transfer business looked geared towards the formation, but a combination of midfield personnel issues and the lack of chances created that comes with using only one creative attacker have left those plans largely sidelined recently.
Nevertheless, the idea of a midfield two going head-to-head with Liverpool’s famously industrious trio turns the stomach for any City fan and for that reason the same formation is likely to be retained.
There’s a certain déjà vu about this situation for Norwich. Their attempts to stay up in the 2019/20 season may have looked feeble from early on, but the last time the Canaries had a genuine chance of survival injury also struck.
Timm Klose had steadied the defensive ship upon his Carrow Road arrival in the January of 2016, but an injury in April ruled the Swiss out of the crunch ending to the season. That Klose’s issue was a knee injury sustained against Crystal Palace only furthers the natural comparison.
Idah wasn’t a new signing, of course, but he’d started to feel like one, and the fantastic player he’d begun to develop into could’ve done with being around for a great deal longer than he was.
Once again, City fans are left feeling unlucky as their Premier League issues are compounded. The Canaries will keep fighting, but they couldn’t be blamed for feeling like the world was against them.