Michael Bailey: Movement, armbands, Sheeran's shirt and Balls' banjo – Six things learned from City's Preston stalemate
©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222
As old faces new and with a result that did little for anyone, PinkUn Show host and Norwich City correspondent MICHAEL BAILEY delivers his six things learned as the Canaries halt Preston’s Championship play-off push.
1 – They are no Arsenal
I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream it. With an onus on possession football and playing the beautiful game never far from either Alex Neil or Daniel Farke while in charge, Norwich City were supposed to be the ‘Arsenal of the Championship’ – pertinent given events involving Arsene Wenger in north London this week.
And at times, the comparison stood a degree of scrutiny.
The problem is for a possession-based side, City weren’t half careless with the ball on Saturday – even those as stubbornly reliable as James Maddison and Moritz Leitner caught the bug. More on that in a bit.
More stark was the one thing that has to come with possession – movement. It’s been a recurring theme, with Farke desperate to see more deep runs from midfield and beyond strikers; losing the likes of Jonny Howson hampered his task.
City can’t afford to be as static as Saturday, if they really want to be more of a threat next season.
2 – The stopping has to stop
It’s not just being static that makes you predictable, of course – a P-word that really has to be phased out ahead of next season.
What has been clear all season is that it can be quite easy to stop Norwich City playing their game and being effective. It’s why Carrow Road has proven a tricky place for City to play – because opponents will give their hosts far more respect in the way they approach a game, than their visitors.
The sight of Onel Hernandez and Josh Murphy in full flight against Reading has been the best example yet of how City could mix it up – and Daniel Farke again said as much in terms of his intentions after full-time at Deepdale. That bodes well.
But it also has to be moulded into action on the pitch, because once again Norwich were all too easily stifled by overloading their playmakers and keeping them at arm’s length.
And it’s a task that may not be made easier if those big sales come too.
3 – There may be Portuguese unease
So with three games to go and Farke reiterating there would be no gifts in terms of selection, a fit Ivo Pinto and Nelson Oliveira start on the bench at Deepdale.
Some will feel Harrison Reed has proven himself as the best right-back at City – but while I like him a lot as a player and would love him to stay, it’s clear he is still a long way from knowing the position; certainly as well as Pinto – a man who has worn the captain’s armband as much as anyone this term.
As for Oliveira, the baggage of this season weighs heavy – and not enough of that weight is contributed by goals.
It can be too easy to read between the lines and I’m certainly not writing anyone off, but Farke’s willingness to leave his Portuguese pair on the bench at the weekend is going to ensure people keep an open mind once the summer arrives.
It all filters into the prospect of another busy transfer window – and two more games of innuendo.
4 – The skippers are here and there
On the flip side of Ivo Pinto on the bench, is the sight of the armband on Alex Tettey – halfway through his sixth year as a Norwich player on appearance number 177.
It was far from a vintage performance against a club that, unsurprisingly, wanted to make Tettey one of their own last summer.
Officially there are just 68 days remaining on his Norwich City contract but with the squad set to get younger and less experienced again next season, there is no shying away from how key one or two more years of the 32-year-old Norwegian midfielder could prove to be.
You never know – stranger things have happened. No doubt Tettey leading the troops now is aimed at keeping the City door open.
Fortunately, Norwich also have a fully firing Grant Hanley – a man now openly smiling, loving his time at the club and appreciating the affection he is receiving. It’s truly well-earned from a cracking season – and what’s proven a superb signing.
5 – He’s not quite the big AN
One comment on our pinkun.com live match coverage summed it up for some: A goalless draw at Preston merely shows how far Norwich City have slipped. Although let’s be honest, that does rather ignore how the table looks and where Preston sit in it.
No doubt some will also be annoyed by the fact PNE’s crunch clash chasing the top six attracted barely 13,000 fans into Deepdale – plenty of them noisy.
It underlines the fact Preston have punched above their weight, while offering a degree of hope that City’s challenge from here is really about getting things right – rather than lamenting the loss of all that cash.
With Simon Grayson’s platform still visible, Alex Neil has done a wonderful job this term. And in turn, it will be fascinating to see what happens there next.
In truth, promotions and relegations meant Neil never got the chance to build at Norwich City. He’ll certainly get the chance now at Preston.
6 – Balls can be timely
It will go down as one of the more surreal moments of the season – traveling back from a goalless Championship draw at Preston where the word ‘entertainment’ was bound to crop up in the fallout; and there on a TV in Woolley Edge services was City chairman Ed Balls alongside Frank Skinner and Harry Hill, playing a banjo to a George Formby classic.
That scenario was of course, dreamed as something the Queen would be entertained by – presumably unlike 90 minutes of Deepdale action.
For the record only Brentford, QPR and Fulham have had more shots on goal this season. There’s another banjo reference I’m sure, but I can’t quite pin it down.
But final celebrity word should go to Ed Sheeran, who opted to get his entertainment fix by seeing Aston Villa hit Ipswich for six. Someone should have told him wearing a blue shirt was only optional.
Finishing above Town is on. It’s all we’ve got.
• For the latest Norwich City news and opinion follow Michael Bailey on the following channels…