Paddy Davitt: Lessons of the past need to define Norwich City’s future course
It was around this time 12 months ago the Canaries’ season plunged into a tailspin. Paddy Davitt assesses the prospect of avoiding a repeat ahead of the return to league action at Nottingham Forest this weekend.
Those fond of omens may be glad to learn Norwich City have followed up every defeat this season with a win under Daniel Farke.
Given Nottingham Forest have gone 12 home games without a loss that would rank as another step in the right direction on Saturday at the City Ground.
The Canaries face three of the top seven in their next four Championship games, plus a test against Aston Villa under the new management of ex-Brentford chief Dean Smith.
It looks a tough schedule but you could justifiably argue apart from Leeds’ 3-0 cruise at Carrow Road earlier this season they have been competitive in every other league tussle.
That should offer a degree of comfort to the pessimists fearful they detect a worrying parallel with last season’s nosedive around this same staging post. That was also a period framed by clean sheets, unbeaten runs and monthly award nominations. Go back and look at the downward spiral which started in the warm glow of a spirited extra-time League Cup defeat at Arsenal, and it is difficult to detect similar fault lines within Farke’s current squad.
The German may have intriguingly opted to stick rather than twist during recent times - in the quest for a consistency in performance and results - but there is a greater richness and depth to his roster 12 months on.
Those experiencing that first icy blast of the Championship last season are better equipped to withstand negative forces, players such as Marco Stiepermann or Mario Vrancic.
City’s youngsters, in the shape of Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, have followed in Jamal Lewis’ heat trail to prove they can grasp the same type of first team opportunities.
Allied to that a clearly defined strand to last summer’s transfer strategy, formulated by Farke and Stuart Webber, to add a domestic core to the group who have been over this terrain before - such as Ben Marshall, Jordan Rhodes or Tim Krul.
During last season’s downturn so much rested on James Maddison’s shoulders, or to be accurate, his talented feet.
Maddison scored only twice in a barren two-month spell following the Emirates exit that brought just one win and punctured so much of the rising optimism; a decline that effectively set the tone for the second part of a disappointing campaign.
Teemu Pukki may have assumed the same importance in the goalscoring stakes at present but Rhodes proved again in a devastating burst at lower league Wycombe he will score goals, given the right service.
City may need him this weekend, after Pukki was forced off early in Finland’s midweek Uefa Nations League win over Greece, with what his national boss reportedly claimed was cramp in his calf.
The fact Nelson Oliveira remains out of the equation this coming weekend merely underlines the resources now at Farke’s disposal. There is no way the Portuguese international would have been omitted this time last year - particularly with fitness concerns around Pukki - when Cameron Jerome was the only alternative in the final throes of his Norwich career.
Farke also has the likes of Grant Hanley and one hopes Kenny McLean, when fit, to provide extra layers of choice.
The gruelling nature of the Championship ensures both will inevitably be replaced on the treatment table, but Farke’s jest about the need to find ‘11 yellow shirts’ to put on the pitch during the worst injury-hit parts of his tenure is unlikely to be required.
In the short term the head coach and his players must continue to deliver.
Follow up a draw at Derby and the unfortunate Stoke defeat with another frustrating shift or two and that sense of déjà vu may be hard to shake.
We have seen many positive sides since the opening weekend comeback at Birmingham City. The ability to react to adversity is an admirable trait.
It will be tested again in this phase.