Walking to Carrow Road on Saturday was an exercise in self-restraint.
After the damp-squib that was the end of last season still leaving a bitter after-taste is would have been easy to let the anticipation of what we have all seen and heard over the past few months overflow into an outpouring of excitement that can only end one way….with further abject disappointment and a real sense of concern for the season to come.
New faces, lots of them, new manager, new ‘philosophy’, new coaching team, new training regime, no money….New regime.
Usually, when the broom is swept through a business to necessitate change it has to start at the top. Change is never really delivered unless you sweep away the dead wood at the very top; Those dusty grey-suited men that refuse to see that the shifting sands have created a new landscape.
Delia and Michael could easily have appointed another chief executive and manager. All the usual names were thrown around. But someone, somewhere in the club (I’m sure you will tell me, but I’m guessing it was Steve Stone) realised there was no one left at the club who was in any position to dictate the direction the club took on the pitch.
What has happened over the Summer has been quite revelatory. But it’s unknown, un-tested in these waters. Yes, it appears to have worked at Huddersfield and perhaps Webber’s Modus Operandi can strike twice – but let’s be honest, we’re all a little nervous whether a whole host of new players, young/foreign/lower division can grow/adapt/rise to the challenge.
On the basis of what I saw yesterday the answer is a resounding YES.
Stark reminder warning….It was a pre-season friendly.
Stark reminder over….
Norwich played with a style of swagger that I have not seen in years. I struggled for long periods of the game to quite fathom why we weren’t picking out players who were in acres of space on the far side of the pitch. Why we were playing it back when a wide player had the pace to beat his man.
But it was blindingly obvious that this team were following a game plan. They were playing Daniel Farke’s football. It was dominant. It was crisp, clean, simple football. Played at pace and with passion.
No ball was given up for dead, no run was not checked, no player stopped concentrating (well, apart from about 30 seconds in the 21st minute), no one was left exposed.
The only issue I saw was that we almost forgot we have to shoot occasionally.
Last season we scored 85 odd goals – and, I think I can say that in about 99% of those cases, it was because we did something really important in football we tried to score.
Yesterday Norwich handled the game brilliantly. We really did look fantastic – and I’ll come back to that point in a moment. But we looked bereft of ideas when it came to either getting behind the Brighton back four or pushing them back far enough to allow us the space to shoot from distance (again, except for a 30 second spell in the 41st minute).
So – let’s get back to that brilliance.
I’ll start at the very top.
Maddison and Reed. Wow. Apologies, in advance, for my language here – but Holy Fricking Cow – these two players were absolute mustard. I am going to find it mightily difficult to accept anything less than both these lads having to be crow-barred out of the starting line-up in the next few weeks. Injuries and bans might have made Farke’s choice easier – but even without Naisy’s imposed absence and Wes and Pritchard’s injuries it would be criminal not to have these two start against Fulham.
Everytime Maddison got the ball he played an intelligent pass. Let me be clear, it wasn’t just a smart ball, it was an intelligent ball. He played the space, not the man. He opened gaps with his runs, retained possession when it wasn’t his to keep and was the pivot in the middle of the park for most of what Norwich did well.
Reed was equally impressive. He was full of running – always making himself available and becoming the third point of the training ground triangles at every opportunity. He was robust and took on tasty tackles while not relinquishing possession either.
Vrancic too, in midfield was top-drawer. I don’t feel I saw the flashes of brilliance that others have benefited from seeing in the other pre-season games but if the cheeky 50 yard lob that he, audaciously, tried to execute is anything to go by then he too will add huge value to our club’s arsenal.
Husband, Franke and Zimmerman were all very comfortable at the back and Watkins, despite me personally feeling was not quite as good as the others, delivered the goods when it mattered with an absolute thunderbolt to level the match a few minutes before the break.
Seven of the starting 11 were new faces. We could have been forgiven for being outplayed by a Brighton team, largely unchanged from last season and probably eager to forget the way they capitulated at the end of last season to give up the Championship title. But Brighton didn’t really turn up. As Hughton himself said they ‘needed to be better with the ball’. You didn’t get it. We had it. For the whole fricking game!
Okay – that’s not strictly true. In the first half possession was something like 72% for Norwich. But, I tell you now. If Norwich can be the protagonists for the majority of games this season I’ll have a few more nails left. Because when we have the ball – the opposition are not going to score.
Brighton did score. After a bright start by NCFC which had seen us have our brightest spell in terms of actual shooting, Brighton took the lead against the run of play. Pascal Grosse flicking the ball in from a Bruno Salter cross.
Norwich riposte was beautifully executed. A crisp pass from Jerome had Watkins in a modicum of space and his 20 yard thunderbolt flew into the top left corner leaving Matt Ryan in the Brighton goal flapping like the proverbial seagull.
In the second half neither team really made any chances. When a raft of changes had seen Naismith, Oliviera, Tettey and Godfrey enter the fray the Canaries seemed less on game-plan. We became more direct and Lord Nelson seemed personally hell-bent on snatching the winner. It was pleasing to see us start to try and carve out an opportunity after 70 minutes of passing it around on the training ground. But it may not be acceptable to DF. Either way, Nelson nearly snatched the winner with another extraordinary shot. A 25-yard curler smacking the inside of the post and rebounding out.
It would be a disservice not to mention an assured display by Angus Gunn in his first appearance at Carrow Road. Farke got a bit miffed with him when he occasionally forgot to play it out from the back. I should also mention Yanic Wildschut who seems like a different player under Farke. If he can maintain his upwards trajectory in terms of confidence he’ll be a serious problem for opponents full-backs. Quality.
So, overall, I was really pleased. I was lucky enough to have a one-2-one with Daniel Farke and his assistant Eddie Riene after the match and I will write up about that later. But this new dawn has brought a new found optimism to my door. If Norwich can beat Fulham on Saturday (and I have very realistic expectations about that game) then we really could be on to something special here.
Last comment. Charlton 6 – 1 Ipswich.