Paddy Davitt verdict: Big bang at Norwich City? Forget it
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Those waiting for a big bang at Norwich City may have to accept the inevitable.
The Canaries have embarked on a brave new approach; fuelled undeniably by the financial realities of life outside the Premier League as much as shedding the staleness that had set in.
Stuart Webber was installed as a sporting director, Daniel Farke as head coach. The overhaul to the existing playing squad, triggered in the summer, was immense in its scale and scope.
A twin track process of overhauling an academy which, in Webber’s view, was unfit for purpose in its primary aim of developing first team talent has also continued apace.
These are massive structural shocks to the football club.
But success in the short term will always be measured in points and performances in the Championship.
That thirst for change was embraced by Norwich City’s fan base. But the more optimistic amongst their number expected a great leap forward on the pitch by this stage of the season.
A sudden light bulb moment of clarity, an alignment of the planets where everything clicked and that fusion between the old and the new propelled City up the league table on a brand of exhilarating, entertaining, progressive football.
Bar that impressively resolute unbeaten stretch, the optimists are still waiting.
The mood music remains ripples of progress filtered through frustrating inconsistency.
What we saw at Elland Road was an extension of Nottingham Forest, or Bolton, or even Cardiff, in the first half.
Norwich’s controlled possession flatters to deceive. In the brightest phases you get a glimpse of what is possible and what Farke is desperately striving to achieve; but the shafts of light are eclipsed by a gnawing sense of underlying vulnerability.
Norwich’s extreme squad makeover inevitably exposed gaps in the playing roster that is only exacerbated by the debilitating run of injuries or suspensions that afflict every club.
The difference is those with enviable resources are better insulated from the weekly challenge of overcoming such obstacles.
Marco Stiepermann’s struggles at left back are not highlighted to castigate the former Bochum man.
They merely illustrate his versatility is essential, not simply an added extra, with James Husband injured and Jamal Lewis on the comeback trail.
Stiepermann was immense at Sheffield United in the same role, when Norwich’s collective resolve wore down Chris Wilder’s Blades and silenced an intimidating home crowd.
What sets that long unbeaten stretch apart from the rest of City’s campaign to date is it remains an island of consistency, where Farke extracted the maximum from his available options and those he selected played somewhere near their optimum level.
If the Canaries slip off such peaks, they seemingly do not have enough to get results in the second tier.
One poorly-defended free kick at Elland Road was the difference between a point and more frustration. Had the visitors’ finishing been sharper, more clinical, it could easily have been another away win to savour.
These are fine margins but City continue to fall the wrong side of them.
The idea the day is coming when things suddenly click and Norwich no longer need to cast anxious glances over the shoulder appears unrealistic.
This festive run, that starts with Brentford’s visit on Friday followed by three games against clubs currently below City in the standings, is massive.
There is no point in downplaying it.
Fail to get the selection and approach right and it will be a long, arduous road to the finish line.
Farke is correct in his assertion this squad of players is far too good to become embroiled in a survival scrap.
But this notion the search for a new identity, a new, vibrant culture will happen organically if the right processes are put in place is a myth.
A pointless exercise at Leeds underlined again the Championship is a brutal environment.
A lack of clarity in either penalty box will be punished.
City, in the uplifting moments - when perhaps Mario Vrancic combines with James Maddison or Alex Pritchard in a blur of close control and technical quality - remain pleasing on the eye but that ruthless streak is missing.
This is not a beauty contest, this is a battle of attrition and the sooner that message gets through the better.
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