Paddy Davitt: The enemy within must be avoided by Norwich City at whatever cost
The success of the Canaries’ Championship promotion push may hinge on those off the pitch rather than on it.
Daniel Farke, not for the first time, sought to hail the togetherness and focus from the lads on duty at Hillsborough in overcoming the vagaries of the homegrown rule, and a number of injuries, to clinch a 4-0 win.
Tom Trybull and Felix Passlack endured an enforced afternoon off - as Farke sought to comply with the matchday rules around his 18 - whilst Ivo Pinto joined the likes of Grant Hanley and Kenny McLean on the sidelines, after suffering an upper back problem in the Carabao Cup exit at Bournemouth a few days earlier.
Ben Marshall was perhaps a beneficiary, to a degree.
The domestic credentials of the former Millwall and Blackburn right-sided player earned him a promotion of sorts to the substitutes’ bench, following a spell laid low by a virus.
Marshall and Pinto now have to defer to Max Aarons when it comes to Farke’s current first choice right back.
Hanley’s absence has been admirably covered by Christoph Zimmermann, but the captain is on course to be back in contention the other side of the international break. McLean may be a touch longer, yet should his recovery remain on track he too will present Farke with another thorny selection dilemma as the festive period looms.
The urbane head coach must publicly embrace such difficult decisions.
It clearly has an upside. Reference the added value from a squad containing genuine depth at the sharp end of his side.
Teemu Pukki carried on where he left off at Sheffield Wednesday, but Jordan Rhodes has shown predatory instincts in bursts, while Dennis Srbeny’s patience arguably warranted that close-range fourth goal which sealed the Owls’ rout.
Note Nelson Oliveira plays no part in this striker equation; a situation highly unlikely to change.
Yet a harmonious air around a winning group hinges on those residing on the periphery playing their small part.
That is not a veiled accusation there is anything but unity within the City dressing room.
No other conclusion can be drawn, given the number of games where Norwich have fallen behind, or coped with the unavailability of key personnel.
This feels a long way removed from reported leaks hinting of a ‘players’ mutiny’ over Farke’s perceived tough training methods which surfaced this time last season, as the curve bent alarmingly downwards.
It is simply a nod to human nature.
Stuart Webber came in on a ticket to thin the first team squad and inject urgency and hunger into the group.
That essentially translates into a justifiable sense every first team player feels they have a chance of playing.
Not, as Webber alluded to regarding the squad he originally inherited, a dressing room where too many knew come Saturday 3pm they had no chance.
Oliveira aside, you might reasonably argue the sporting director and Farke have achieved that stated objective.
But when the volume of injuries eases, and suspensions only cast a temporary shadow, the onus is on those not quite able to force their way into Norwich’s starting XI to remain the glue that binds.
A winning culture makes that task so much easier.
Even those on the fringes can see potential benefits from being part of a successful campaign.
But say, hypothetically, both Marshall or Pinto continue to be viewed as back up to Aarons or Emi Buendia.
Say Rhodes’ quest for regular first team football founders on the goalscoring form of Pukki. Say even Hanley must accept that Zimmermann and Timm Klose deserve to be the men in possession.
Then the focus will be on those players as much as Farke to ensure real momentum is maintained and energy not diverted or wasted.
If City remain firmly in the mix through this next period, and the turn for home in the new year, then it really is all about the team at the expense of the individual. The collective over a quest for personal glory.