Paddy Davitt verdict: The issues cut deeper than fatigue at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 12:07 21 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:41 21 January 2018
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Chris Wilder enjoyed himself. But Carrow Road has witnessed too many of these fitful offerings from Norwich City.
We can get the mitigation out of the way early.
Yes, the epic nature of a spirited FA Cup exit in front of millions watching on television against the Premier League champions was a stunning effort from Daniel Farke’s squad.
City were fearless and bold, committed and brave after weathering an early storm from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Back on home turf they looked timid and lethargic, lacking in attacking invention for the most part.
Ivo Pinto’s soaring header was a lifeline, after Clayton Donaldson had cashed in on an Alex Tettey’s aberration but, in truth, the final margin flattered the Canaries.
Wilder’s Blades were understandably fresher, after five extra days preparation, and no doubt fuelled by a perceived sense of injustice from the battle of Bramall Lane, encapsulated by Wilder’s bizarre post-match media rant after the corresponding fixture.
The manner he raced across the turf on the final whistle at Carrow Road to salute his adoring public, beating his chest and hugging his players, drew a stinging response from the home fans still left in the stadium.
Wilder is not someone you warm to easily,
A spiky, confrontational character who has moulded a squad that is hungry to build on last season’s League One triumph.
A successful play-off tilt may prove beyond them when you look the depth of resource from other rivals, but a fired-up Wilder and an steely Sheffield United was arguably the last opponent Farke would have picked.
Yet this is not an isolated case of Carrow Road frustration this season.
The vast majority of Norwich’s best work has come away from Norfolk. The inability to unlock massed defences and the potential of some technically gifted players, on a consistent basis, remains a stubborn obstacle to sustained progress.
In this Championship season, it seems easier to frustrate than to create.
To wear teams down and hit on the counter.
City employed that template perfectly at Bramall Lane and more recently Bristol City but this game was effectively decided before the break.
Sheffield’s midfield claimed the higher ground and in so doing managed to stifle the creative urgings of the likes of James Maddison who, for once, appeared lacking in inspiration.
Any wonder given his workload in a breakthrough season and the drip, drip of featuring routinely in the transfer gossip columns.
Farke reiterated after this game, City must bring in reinforcements between now and January 31 but there will be another major upside once deadline day is in the rear view mirror, should Maddison and the rest of his key men remain under the German’s charge.
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Then Norwich can embark on the next phase of this development cycle, free of such distractions between now and the end of the campaign.
Farke has enough to contend with than batting away endless questions about the futures of his prized assets or his fringe men. Or recruiting replacements for those already left.
Surely the most pressing dilemma is to solve a chronic lack of productivity at the top end of the pitch.
City remain in the bottom six for goals scored, both at home and away in the Championship.
Nelson Oliveira is a convenient scapegoat but the issue is far more complex than replacing the temperamental but gifted Portuguese international with another striker.
The service into the opposition penalty is sporadic and maddeningly inconsistent.
The propensity to go laterally an invitation for well-drilled backlines like Sheffield United’s to funnel into an obdurate shape.
City have pace in wide areas, with the likes of Pinto, Josh Murphy and young Jamal Lewis but the temptation to cut back inside and look for Maddison appears too great to resist.
When Norwich do raid with width the lack of support and numbers around Oliveira inside the opposition penalty area for the final delivery is a routine issue.
Farke’s broad brush strokes carry promise; his willingness to promote from a younger talent pool a necessity but also a refreshing philosophy.
The blossoming of Lewis has been one of the uplifting stories of this season of transition.
Now in the months ahead we need to see more intricate touches.
It is not enough to write this latest Carrow Road episode off as the by-product of a thrilling cup tussle.
The underlying faults have been visible since the start.
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