A resurgent Josh Sargent and a will to find a way to win have been key over the five-game winning run for the Canaries, and Dean Smith’s tactical impressions are finally beginning to make their mark on his squad.
Smith was faced with the task of Premier League survival in the immediacy of his appointment in November of last year, leaving little to no room to establish a style of play allowing freedom and tactical experimentation.
Smith’s arrival also meant that the squad of players he inherited was not his own, and so hitting the ground running was an almost impossible task.
Following a relatively active summer transfer window, the squad now consists of real depth and a number of signings who would have been chosen or approved by Smith with which he has begun to find a winning formula.
Marcelino Nunez provides something that was missing from the City midfield before he secured a place in the starting line-up.
Since the departure of Emi Buendia, the transition from midfield to attack has been sluggish and poor, meaning that chances were simply not presenting themselves as often or as quickly as they need to be.
But Nunez’s creativity and ambition to drive the ball forward mean the chances are slowly starting to present themselves for the likes of Sargent and Teemu Pukki.
An example of this is the Canaries’ first goal in their dominant 3-0 win at home to Coventry last week. A pressing and ambitious Nunez won the ball back high up the pitch and found Pukki for 1-0 – a type of move reminiscent of Buendia..
Nunez’s stunning freekick at Hull is another element to his game that fans can be hopeful about as, despite a loss that day, free kick goals have not come frequently since Mario Vrancic’s time at the club.
Aaron Ramsey didn’t spark as much excitement amongst fans at the time of his arrival at Carrow Road, but two starts in succession and some versatility have transformed him into someone the midfield would look lost without.
Off the bench at Sunderland, he created one of the only clear-cut chances of the game, allowing Sargent to slot in the winner. Playing on the left-hand side against Birmingham he put in a solid performance, but it was in the win against Coventry where Ramsey demonstrated the extent of his capabilities.
A 92% passing accuracy for the Aston Villa loanee rewarded him with another assist for Sargent as Ramsey calmly and selfishly put one on a plate for the American to slot home – his fifth of the campaign.
Sargent’s influence on the recent resurgence in wins cannot be understated. His goalscoring contributions have been vital to the form that fans have been enjoying, but his work off the ball and as a deeper forward is almost equally as important.
In the 2-1 win over Birmingham, Sargent dropped deeper in order to get on the ball and create opportunities, and towards the end of the second half, this allowed Onel Hernandez to find space and cause serious problems, eventually leading to the winner deep into stoppage time.
Unlike many periods in recent years in both the Premier League and the Championship, it seems now that City know how to find a way to win games where they are not always as dominant and can mix up how chances are created.
Sargent presents a more physical threat up front whereas there are the likes of Pukki or Hernandez who can emerge from the bench and give opposing defences something to worry about – a testament to both Dean Smith for effective use of substitution.
It also demonstrates a squad that seems to be patient and happy to take their chances in the starting line-up when they are presented to them.
Having a large squad in the Championship is key, and with eight Championship winners’ medals on the bench against Birmingham, the squad depth will be so vital when it comes to the latter stages of the season.
Winning games when not at, and sometimes nowhere near, their best is a very promising sign for Smith and his squad. The depth and options that he now has at his disposal are varied and will prove to be key.
The competition between Pukki and Sargent is healthy, there are options in the midfield, especially when Liam Gibbs and Isaac Hayden emerge from their injuries.
Andrew Omobamidele too is finding a rich vein of form, which means Smith has options at the back too, barring of course the seemingly cursed left back position.
Early days, but the signs are promising.