Robin Sainty: Why the win over Villa was about more than just Josh Murphy's goal
PUBLISHED: 21:39 13 April 2018 | UPDATED: 21:39 13 April 2018
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When Timm Klose, finding no one open ahead of him, turned and played the ball back to Angus Gunn from the halfway line to an undertone of boos halfway through last Saturday's first half I feared the worst.
In all honestly, the game up to that point had been tedious in the extreme, with City happy to sit back and wait for the chance to break on their toothless visitors, and I don’t think that even the most optimistic of us expected the fireworks that were to come after Josh Murphy had ignited Carrow Road with his wonder strike just before the break.
Of course, that goal opened the game up as Villa, who had failed to muster any sort of goal threat in the opening period, had to be more adventurous, and that was to City’s benefit. However, their execution was perfect, and, in the end, the 3-1 score line flattered the visitors.
While Murphy quite rightly took the headlines, three things stood out for me. Firstly, with James Maddison largely neutralised by the close attention paid to him by Villa, Mario Vrancic became City’s main creative spark, and it was noticeable that his ability to spot and play the early ball caused Villa lots of problems.
The Bosnian’s ability to hit accurate long passes also exposed John Terry’s lack of pace, which in turn meant that he and James Chester sat deeper, making it harder for Villa to press City in possession, and, conversely, easier for the Canaries to do so to the visitors.
Vrancic’s development has been good to watch. There was never any doubt about his quality on the ball, but it took him quite some time to pick up the pace of the English game, particularly its physicality, yet now he is developing into an all-round player who looks comfortable in a deep lying role as well as being happy to push forward.
The second plus point was the performance of Dennis Srbeny, who harassed Terry and Chester all game and was justly rewarded with his first goal for the club. He is still quite raw at this level but is already exhibiting better movement than we’ve seen from a City striker all season, and, unlike Nelson Oliveira, seems much happier to bring others into play rather than finding a way to have a shot at goal, however unrealistic.
However, it’s Srbeny’s unselfish work in closing down and dispossessing defenders which is really benefiting the team as he has assumed the sort of role that Cameron Jerome used to play in defending from the front.
The final, and perhaps most unexpected factor that I picked up on last week, was the intensity of City’s challenges. Harrison Reed in particular was a man possessed, throwing himself into tackles and directly contributing to the Carrow Road crowd getting more involved in the game.
All in all, it was a good day to be a City fan, but, of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and given the way the season has gone there was a certain inevitably that Tuesday’s game at Sunderland would see a much less convincing City performance.
With Farke choosing not to put some key players through three tough games in eight days the side selected wasn’t universally popular but realistically had City taken their many chances they would have won comfortably.
Nevertheless, Sunderland’s goal once again highlighted an issue which has dogged the Canaries all season, with a wide player being given too much time and space to either deliver a cross or, as in this case, line up a shot. It’s happened too often and must be eradicated next season.
However, at least the side are now generating chances on a regular basis, but they will need to take them today if they are to repeat the highs of last Saturday against a Cardiff team smarting from their midweek defeat at Villa.