What a difference a week on the fields of Colney can make. Wow.
Obviously, it’s important to not get too carried away – just three points – but so gloomy and miserable have the last 14 months been, sod it. Let’s dream.
It was the type of performance we’d spent the last year and a bit yearning for – the type where the technicians are given licence and freedom to create; where the whole team plays two ticks quicker than is comfortable; where there’s intensity in every area of the pitch; and where there is a shape and structure in which every player is comfortable.
I’m sure, if asked, Dean Smith would say he wanted his team to play in that exact same way but, for whatever reason, he just couldn’t deliver it. In almost every metric, his Norwich City team was the antithesis of the one we watched yesterday.
It goes without saying that David Wagner will have trickier days ahead, and it’s also fair to say Preston didn’t make life as difficult for City as we had anticipated, but there was nothing not to like about that performance.
Even the odd wobble at the back feels like a price worth paying if it means the team is playing on the front foot and is unafraid to commit numbers forward.
And let’s not forget, Wagner didn’t play this safe. Not one bit.
Would anyone reading this piece have opted for Tim Krul in goal ahead of a fault-less Angus Gunn? Would anyone have given the previously leaden-legged Kieran Dowell the nod ahead of any of the other attacking midfield options?
Didn’t think so.
And I’m not sure too many of us would have given the left-wing berth in the starting XI to Onel Hernandez.
For me, that would have been a solid 0/3.
But all three delivered – even if Krul did have a couple of nervy first-half moments with the ball at his feet. When it mattered, in those opening moments of the second half, he stood tall.
Dowell, so often on the periphery and struggling with the intensity of Championship battle, was front and centre of all things good and offered that priceless commodity that’s a must for all good teams – goals from midfield.
Onel continued to do Onel things but this time with extra men in the box – the big difference being his crosses didn’t have to be precise and could instead (to use an annoying phrase) be played into an area. Also, his high-energy, hard-running style is well-suited to the tempo that Wagner wants this side to play at.
He and Dowell couldn’t be more different, but both brought their own qualities to yesterday’s party.
So, kudos to Wagner for including names most of us wouldn’t. That, Boris Johnson, is what it really means to get the big calls right 😀
But it’s one thing selecting personnel you think can play the style of football that you want, it’s another to get your key messages so embedded that in the heat of a Championship maelstrom, those players deliver them.
Yet they did.
Against Blackburn in the FA Cup, those messages had just started to seep in and there were a few promising signs amid much of the stuff we’ve watched all season, but a week at Colney, which included a return to the double training sessions, has rejuvenated what looked a tired, jaded and struggling group.
The issue of fitness may still be one – you can’t make a huge difference in seven days – but with sports scientists and conditioning teams on board who measure the players’ metrics on, I believe, a daily basis, it’s hard to believe they were quite as unfit as they appeared.
Maybe it was more a state of mind, and the sharpness and zip we witnessed yesterday were being stifled by muddled thinking and a general lethargy borne of a lack of motivation.
Who knows. But the difference was stark, and his intelligent use of subs to ensure the energy levels stayed high was nigh on perfect.
And amid it all are some big names reborn. Teemu Pukki looked to have rediscovered that lost yard of pace that we assumed had gone forever and, in a flash, the Max Aarons of 2020-21 has returned to us.
Kenny McLean too.
While some of the flak the Scot has copped has been disproportionate, he proved yesterday that there is another level there for him to step up into. While it remains vital that we bolster the centre of the pitch with energy and muscle alongside him – Gabriel Sara did it well yesterday – McLean looked at home in the role of our deepest-lying midfielder.
Wagner clearly likes him, as does every coach he plays under, and if he performs as he did yesterday for the rest of the season, that position is his.
There were no losers in yellow, it was the epitome of a team effort, but the biggest winners were the 996 City fans who made the trip to Deepdale. Heroes all, and who were deserving of both the performance and the ovation they were given by the players at the end of the game.
Of all the good things that happened yesterday afternoon in Preston, the sight of those players, backed discreetly by their head coach, clapping the fans is the one that will endure. A togetherness, between players, management and fans not seen since Daniel Farke’s final day at Brentford – 434 days ago.
Not for the first time, I’m leaving the final word to my Dad.
“There’s something really likeable about Wagner … he just feels Norwichy”.
Wanstead Canary says
Gary, I’m with your Dad, he does feel Norwichy! The biggest difference between him and Dean Smith is that he smiles and what a huge difference that makes.
MYSTIC KEV says
Good piece Gary like your dad’s take on wagner that game is what I call entertainment not seen it like that 18months all the bad recruits suddenly playing as a team as you say even Kenny had a good un it’s a very positive start can only be good for confidence for players and fans let’s keep it going and see we’re go .
Jim Davies says
Kenny has had several good games this season, not just yesterday. Last week against Blackburn, I would have had him as man of the match, and in other games where we haven’t performed as well as these two under Wagner, he’s still put in good performances, it’s just that people have had such a down on him, they don’t see what he brings to the team.
MYSTIC KEV says
If Kenny plays like that more often he will become a fans favourite let’s hope so.
Dave Cole says
Football is weird Gary. What makes a particular athlete decide that in one game they can make a decision/run/pass/take a shot faster than in the previous game. These are the same players who have performed at much higher levels previously. Even when a coach changes style, surely they all have an innate ability (and responsibility!) in a game to up their levels if things aren’t working? Or are they just robots playing as coached? It’s annoying, frustrating and bewildering that, in spite of Dean Smith, this lot couldn’t have upped their game more often. Maybe they were trying to get him sacked after all! Maddening!
A joyous day but note that PNE had bad injury problems so we hammered an under strength eleven. Hashtag, let’s not get carried away!
996 away fans is great; but did you see Argyle brought over 2000 from nearly Cornwall to grubby Suffolk to see Bali Mumba puncture the blues’ hopes? I used to live down there and can vouch for the long and windy road across country to East Anglia. Hats off to the Pilgrims!
On the amount of support that city had a PNE I did read that the allocated amount was sold out so maximum turn out.
Donna Lelean says
Yes it did and club posted message saying tickets available for Norwich fans to buy on the day cash only at the ground. Presumably PNE had spare tickets previously allocated for home fans that they knew could be snapped up by Norwich.
martin penney says
Yes I’ve done tt a couple of times and it’s one heck of a journey
*But Schumacher also revealed after the game that Plymouth had trained at the Canaries’ training ground in the lead-up to the contest after the Argyle team had flown into Norwich airport.* – EADT.
Every little helps 🙂
Yes I read that too. Astonishing collaboration. NB Wonderful strike by BM!
One Swallow doesn’t make a summer but it shows you that better times are on there way after a miserable winter of discontent.
2 up and I was thinking it would just be like city to throw it away but instead we kicked on and secured another 2 a great afternoon for streaming.
I just wonder if Webber will be thinking if only we had made the decision a few weeks earlier and Wagner had been given the time in Tampa then we might have got that different animal that had been promised, but all good things come to those that wait so they say.
Dean Smith will be looking at the game yesterday analysing the stats and thinking where did it go so wrong for him, hindsight is a wonder thing but too many have written that with the players we have he wasn’t the right choice he was the cheap no compo choice that came and failed.
I will wish DS&SS all the best in their future careers and hope they have many more successful years but they knew they made a poor decisions in taking the job.
City showed their good side by letting Plymouth use the Colney facilities and Bali Mumba got to meet his new boss for a short period, then he goes and get a second goal against Ipshite this season those Blue Noses must hate his guts so onwards and upwards for Plymouth and Mumba.
This was the first game I’ve been excited about for over a year, and boy did the lads deliver. I think David Wagner will be the perfect fit for us and was the right appointment with SW knowing him so well. I might even go to some matches again.
Take away the result Gary the second half was the most exciting game of football I’ve watched on tv for a long long time. Both teams giving it a go maybe the BBC should stop banging about the Premier lge and show more games like this prime time was like a breath of fresh air.
Was not to keen on Wagner but like your dad said seems very likable which a positive and his likes his teams to get on the front foot.
Quick shout out to Bali Mumba made life in lowie a bit more tolerable this week them blues will be hiding in there hoodies for a few days 👍
Keith B says
What goes round comes round – it was the PNE game at Carrow Rd that led to Krul’s demotion, so how ironic that he got a chance to redeem himself yesterday. I think he will stay as No 1 for now. I always get the impression he “commands” his defence whereas Gunn is a bit Sergeant Wilson.
The absence of Riis was a stroke of luck yesterday; had one of those chances just after the break fallen to him I think he’d have made better use of them.
That Rowe made 2 changes before halftime clearly suggests he hadn’t set up right, but unless he dug out videos from Huddersfield 5 years ago he’d not really have much to go on. As the weeks progress others will – but of course, we’ll also get better at playing this way.
What’s clear is that for now at least, Wagner’s arrival has rejuvenated several jaded players.
What’s more exciting is the thought that he may be able to turn Sara into something special; the boy’s clearly got talent and seems to have a good attitude too. If he can stay fit I think he will also turn Omo into a very decent centre back capable of playing at a higher level.
I look back at the games since the WCup and the points total we could have had. The difference in the same players producing that after a week . It is quite clear the fans know more about their team than the ones running it.
I for one allowed myself to get carried away just for a bit, it has been a long long while since that feeling was not stunted .
test comes at Coventry
Andrew Delf says
Like the title of the article Gary. Indeed it was a fast show, “which was nice.” Please send my regards to Dick.
Gary Gowers says
Cheers Delfie…. Will do.
Any excuse for a Fast Show reference tbh 😊
Great to see players rejuvenated plus minutes for Lungi, he’ll love Wagnerball.
Like most things success is 95% motivation, hopefully the whole club will rediscover its collective mojo.
So Todd Cant-play-well looks to be taking the Prince Harry escape route, perhaps he’ll write a book too telling us his truth. Shame really, probably lauded at too young an age and he believed it but I wish him well, he’s a Norfolk lad and made a contribution for sure.
Perhaps Teemu can get to 100 goals now.
Kevin O'Connor says
I am an Argyle fan who is also a Norwich City season ticket holder. I was in the away support at Ipswich yesterday so can confirm the utter joy with which Bali Mumba celebrated that brilliant equaliser. 5 goals this season from wing-back is very impressive. He has played mainly on the left but had to fill in on the right for all of yesterday’s game because Joe Edwards was suspended. If you watch the goal you’ll see how 2 footed he is. Great touch from City to lend the Janners their training facilities even though it brings an uncomfortable game for me next season a little bit closer.
Spot on Gary. Watching the extended highlights on YouTube Chris Goreham was constantly highlighting the ‘energy and intensity’ of the players and DW used the same words to sum up the performance and what he wants from his ‘system’. There lies the difference for me. No knocking the ball around at the back but instead getting it forward quickly with good movement up front to make attacks less predictable and thus more effective. It’s only the first game after one week of training but it’s a helluva good start and a sea change from what went before.
Great article Gary,
A fabulous result and a great performance from all!
We have to consider that the style of play being instilled in the squad by David Wagner is a breath of fresh air for the entire squad. Worth noting that 9 of Farke’s men were on the pitch at the start, while 2 more came on as substitutes. Already, Wagner and the team are producing the goods!
The Krul miskicks – when we play out from deep, if opposing players are close in, there are inevitably going to be times when we get turned over – credit to McLean for snuffing one out, and Krul himself for standing solid for the other one. Be interesting to see if, under Wagner, the keepers are regularly inter-changeable.
Sometimes though, the goalie’s kick over the midfield to our strikers and attacking midfiellders, is the safest option and offers instant counter-attacks. Kevin Keelan was a master of the long kick upfield and I’ve no doubt Krul and Gunn are more than capable too. I’m sure our keepers have the ability to know when to go long occasionally.
Credit to Bali Mumba for putting a smile on The Pilgrim’s faces while denying Ipswich, I lived in Plymouth in the mid to late 90s, great people and a great club, I hope they stand firm and get to the Championship!
David C. says
Hi Gary, very nice change to be able to read a positive column from you, it’s been 14 month’s in the coming. Dean Smith was obsessed with statistics but the average punter doesn’t need statistics it’s what we can see with our own eyes the lack of fitness together with no playing style or plan, the problems he brought to Norwich were evident at Villa, all the excuses for poor performances of the City he used at Villa, according to Villa fans their complaints of lack of fitness was because he didn’t start training till mid-day so lets all hope these positive signs continue. Having said that whilst the on-field situation may be solved the very real off-field problem remains……….. Webber or Webber’s, remember their comments after the sacking of Smith? their criticism of the fan power against Smith and their wish for Smith to remain as they believed in him and what he was trying to achieve, and it worries me as to what influence he will wield over Wagner, I’m not going to elaborate now but I’ve already seen some signs, but I’m hoping Wagner will be strong enough to be his own man, because we all know Webber hasn’t a clue about football, just an administrator.
Credit where it is due, as much as I disliked Webber for sacking Farke and the subsequent employment of Smith, I have to say, he seems to have got it right with this one. Already the whole vibe is so much better. I think Wagner has also made it clear in press conferences that he and Stuart don’t always agree and that he will argue his corner. I can’t believe how much better Sunday felt after a good performance. With Lungi coming back and with some decent players on the bench who will surely only improve with good coaching things are looking up. I even bothered to look at the league table yesterday, the first time in a long while!
Inside Right says
Wagner can talk the talk, but unlike many around him, can deliver too. He may have been here only 5 minutes, but already looking like many will want him to stay 5 years.
We are all hoping Webber’s last throw of the dice has got a winner in the pack of chance.