Robin Sainty: Finally, some momentum from City

Pierre Lees-Melou of Norwich applauds the fans as he leaves the match during game with Burnley

Pierre Lees-Melou applauds the Norwich City fans as he leaves the match after a key performance against Burnley - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

A week ago I wrote that there was a desperate need for Norwich City to give the fans something to cheer about and, in all fairness, that’s exactly what they delivered, and it was wonderful to see Carrow Road bouncing on Sunday.

It’s almost certainly too little too late, but it was welcome nonetheless and the passion on the pitch was soon matched in the stands, helped by a series of decisions from referee Michael Oliver in the closing stages of the first half which incensed the home fans.

The use of the 4-2-3-1 system which had largely been abandoned this season proved very effective, as did the use of Pierre Lees-Melou in a more attacking role, with his performance raising the question of why he hadn’t been used in that way before, by either Daniel Farke or Dean Smith.

The Frenchman’s willingness to drive into available space with the ball was a major factor in City getting onto the front foot early in the game and that in turn meant that Teemu Pukki at last found himself with proper support and as a result was able to use his excellent movement to get into space where he is most effective, in and around the opponents’ box.

Pukki has often looked a rather forlorn figure this season, but he was absolutely electric against Burnley and his goal was a fitting reward for an outstanding all-round performance, as well as a timely reminder that there are still plenty of miles left in the tank.

Norwich City pair Kenny McLean and Tim Krul embrace at the end of win over Burnley at Carrow Road

Kenny McLean and Tim Krul embrace after the win over Burnley - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

I was very critical of the midfield last week, and justifiably so, but on Sunday the unit performed well, with Kenny McLean in particular playing like a man possessed and Mathias Normann growing into the game after a rather frenetic start where he seemed to be trying to rush things.

However, the key element was Lees-Melou. It was great to see a City midfielder running with the ball and committing defenders rather than constantly passing laterally or backwards, and it seemed to surprise Burnley, who looked shambolic whenever Norwich took the game to them.

Most Read

In fairness, Sean Dyche’s team allowed much more space in midfield than the vast majority of Premier League sides and there were times when the game looked more like a Championship tussle, but that shouldn’t detract from City’s win or their overall performance.

Whatever Burnley lack in quality they more than make up for in physicality, but City stood up to it well, and the battle between Grant Hanley, who was again outstanding alongside Ben Gibson, and the lanky Wout Weghorst was absorbing, and one which the City skipper eventually won comfortably with his opponent being substituted as Dyche searched in vain for a spark to lift what was a strangely flat performance from his side.

Given that they were coming off a win against Everton and had given themselves a chance of building on that, the fact that Tim Krul was required to make only two saves of note during the game, albeit one of them exceptional, came as something of a surprise, but was a huge credit to City’s defenders, who showed total commitment in throwing their bodies in the way of shots.

The atmosphere around the ground before kick-off was as flat as I’ve seen it for some time, but the afternoon’s events showed that the fans will respond to seeing commitment on the pitch, and it was clear after the final whistle how much that had meant to the players.

It was an uplifting day, but the reality is that it needs to be repeated several times if City are to avoid an apparently inevitable relegation.

That may well prove to be a step too far, but Smith’s team does have the chance to generate some momentum to take into the summer and that is certainly an achievable objective.

At least now we’ll travel to Old Trafford with hope in our hearts.