The result at The Hawthorns yesterday shouldn’t be underestimated in its importance, especially given the circumstances.
Norwich have slumped a little in terms of performance levels over the Christmas period but crucially, we’re still right in there and we’ve only lost one league game in that “slump”, the crazy 4-3 against Derby. They’ve been missing players, like the midfield quarterback, Mo Leitner and the physical presence of Marco Stiepermann and we could’ve done with both against West Brom.
Without Marco, Teemu Pukki isn’t as effective, he isn’t big enough to win aerial balls and relies on good service, something that WBA starved him of yesterday. Darren Moore set his team up very effectively to press Norwich quickly and high up the pitch. We were squeezed tightly and that affected Tim Krul’s distribution with the ball, his trio of top drawer saves more than made up for that though.
Without Mo Leitner, City aren’t able to slide through the gears as easily. He knows when to give the ball and he knows when to hold on to it. For me, the end of the month and his return can’t come soon enough.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Marco Stiepermann returns for the next game of this massively important run, against Birmingham City on Friday night. His link-up play with those around him and his partnership with Pukki, not to mention his goals, has been sorely missed over the last couple of games.
The back four are so young and first only played together against Bolton, so you can forgive them for not being absolutely awesome every minute of every game. The Baggies though, were allowed far too much space on the City left by Jamal Lewis and Onel Hernandez in that first half. Onel wasn’t tracking back as much to help Lewis out and it cost us when the excellent Mason Holgate was given all the time in the world to cross to the front post for Dwight Gayle to open the scoring.
Some players have “a level” that they are superb at but that they struggle to better. Dwight Gayle is a classic example of the player that’s a master of the Championship but finds he is nowhere near as effective in the Premier League and struggles. Darren Huckerby was the same and in Jordan Rhodes, we have a player whose scoring record at this level is as good as anyone’s. His one brief crack at the Premier League with former club, Middlesbrough ended in a loan back to the Championship.
The fact that City have strength in depth and players on the bench that can change a game was highlighted by the introduction of Kenny McLean and Rhodes. If Gayle is WBA’s arch poacher of goals, then Rhodes is that man for the Canaries. He scored with his first touch from a lovely left-footed cross to the near post from Kenny McLean.
If Carlsberg did late substitutions…
The credit for that must go to Daniel Farke though, who ended the game with three strikers on the pitch, clearly going for it. Dennis Srbeny came on for Emi Buendia and he affected the game, he showed some nice touches and tested Johnstone from 30 yards with a decent strike.
Farke went 3-4-3 and that change of formation did the trick. It pushed our wingbacks further up the field and penned West Brom back a bit, giving them something to think about rather than going forward, which is what they’d spent most of the first hour of the game doing.
Kenny McLean continues to impress after a decent showing against Portsmouth and then this game-changing late cameo. His return to fitness is very timely indeed and he’s basically like a brand new signing. That adds to the strength in depth I spoke of earlier and it strengthens us going into the second half of the season.
The next four games are huge, as we all know. Before kick-off at The Hawthorns, I would’ve taken a draw and I’m more than happy that we got it. The point and the manner in which it was gained could prove vital come the season’s end and again, with Norwich refusing to be beaten, the Canaries showed they are real contenders.
West Brom looked good and their strength in depth, quality, pace and power mean they are also big players in the promotion shake-up. The crunch games in this upcoming run of fixtures are Sheffield United at home and Leeds away at Elland Road, with the match against the Blades looking the bigger of the two now.
It’s still a great time to be a member of the Canary nation and we go again on Friday.
I can’t wait!