Robin Sainty: Old heads playing their part in Norwich City's season
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 September 2018 | UPDATED: 10:52 22 September 2018
A paracosm is a phenomenon where a detailed imaginary world is created in one's mind, and judging by his post-match interview last week, Tony Pulis spends much of his time in one.
Contrary to all available evidence he attempted to portray a referee who had barely awarded a single marginal decision to City, and who had somehow conjured up six minutes of added time, as a homer who had contributed to his team’s defeat by not awarding a penalty when Britt Assombalonga crumpled theatrically at the slightest of touches from Christoph Zimmermann.
Back in the real world, of course, Middlesbrough had been effectively neutralised as an attacking force by Daniel Farke’s surprising but effective team selection, and after starting brightly had been pushed further and further back by a City performance that grew in confidence and must rank among the best of the German’s tenure.
In classic Pulis fashion, Boro got everyone back in defence, got some cheap shots in off the ball, with Moritz Leitner a regular victim, but had nothing to fall back on after going behind other than to throw the man mountain Aden Flint up front and lump high balls into the box at every opportunity. It was anti-football at its most ugly.
The fact that City refused to be intimidated or to deviate from their game plan resulted in an afternoon that saw the bond between the players and the Carrow Road crowd reforged as the effort on the pitch was reciprocated in the stands, and long may that continue.
Although the first half became something of a stalemate it was noticeable that a tactical adjustment saw both City full-backs pushing higher after the break and it was a run to the bye line by Max Aarons, who hardly looked like a player making just his second league start, which set up the only goal for the tireless Teemu Pukki.
However, any euphoria at the final whistle was short-lived given that City needed to build on the win, and the news on Tuesday that Onel Hernandez, who had been virtually unplayable against Boro, needed surgery on a hernia and will miss a number of games. The injuries are mounting up and will inevitably focus attention on City’s training regime.
There is, of course, a thin line between getting players to peak condition and pushing them too far and it would be hard to argue against the fact that City’s superior fitness has been a factor in several games this season, Preston and Birmingham being good examples, and that once again proved to be the case at Reading on Wednesday.
A depleted City squad totally controlled the first half with some composed passing only to let the home side back into the game when a bit of apparent over-confidence saw possession surrendered too easily for a period. However, their response was excellent as Mario Vrancic’s classy finish was followed by a period of possession football interspersed with some incisive moves which could have easily resulted in a more emphatic final score.
To keep things in perspective it must be said that Reading looked poor, but given City’s current problems with injuries there were many grounds for optimism, particularly the fact that Wednesday night’s starting XI included three Academy products, all of whom acquitted themselves well.
Once again, Daniel Farke showed that he is infinitely more prepared to give youth a chance than his predecessor and he is being rewarded by young players performing without fear.
However, he also deserves credit for how much more he is getting from older players like Alex Tettey and Marco Stiepermann, both of whom were immense in this week’s games.
There is a steeliness to this season’s squad which was not always apparent last year and although today will be a massive test against a resurgent QPR few will be writing off City’s chances after a remarkable week.