Stuart Hodge: It's time for Norwich City to hit upon a balanced formula between defence and attack
PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:47 13 March 2018
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Norwich City supporter Stuart Hodge believes it is now time for Daniel Farke to discover the formula that marries the Canaries' needs in defence and attack.
Back in August, I wrote that Norwich City supporters need to be patient.
As is the way with some modern football fans, many people were dismissing the new management team before things had got out of first gear.
That was then. Now, my concern is that certain repeated traits and patterns we see on the pitch NEED be eradicated for us to avoid ticking along in neutral or even going into reverse.
A point of note first, though: anything I say moving forward in this piece is referring to on-field matters only. The off-field situation has been well discussed for obvious reasons in the past week or two.
I understand that the club is cutting its cloth to suit given that a gaping hole is about to be blown in our parachute payments. Without doubt there has to be an understanding of those circumstances.
But even though we’re trimming the wage budget and essentially down-sizing to become more sustainable financially, that does not excuse the fact that it’s either feast or famine for Norwich City, normally depending on which formation the head coach picks. City either appear pretty much impotent in front of goal, or powerless to prevent conceding them at the other end.
After shipping eight in two consecutive league matches earlier in the campaign, I was full of praise for how Daniel Farke readjusted his mentality and system to make us a tougher nut to crack defensively.
It showed bags of tactical nous, the ability to communicate changes to his charges and perhaps most importantly, given much of the criticism of the previous management team on this front, a willingness to adapt based on what he’d seen on the field.
Those changes culminated in a record-breaking run of clean sheets, as the Canaries went five league matches without conceding and the credit for that has to go to Farke and his coaching team.
During that run though, we only scored three goals in those five games, winning 1-0 three times with two goalless draws.
The Canaries, despite their struggles defensively last season, were the joint-top scorers in the Sky Bet Championship when all was said and done with 85 goals, alongside Fulham and champions Newcastle. That’s pretty free-scoring. This season, the Yellows have only scored more than once in the league on eight occasions, fewer than a quarter of the matches, and, at current speed, are on course to score fewer than half the number of goals managed in the previous campaign.
Of course, both Jacob Murphy and Cameron Jerome have moved on, as well as a number of other players who chipped in with goals last season. A new management team has come in and obviously things weren’t going to be the same, but the scale of the drop-off in the number of goals is hugely concerning.
Even more so, when you consider that of Norwich’s 37 league goals so far, James Maddison has either scored or assisted on 18, around half, of those. Take that kid, who is without doubt now one of the best players in the division, out of the team and Norwich’s struggle for goals turns them from a mid-table team into a side fighting relegation.
Over-reliance on an individual is never good, but more troubling is that Farke has appeared unable to find a happy medium between defensive solidity and attacking freedom. We are now in March and the boss still appears to be feeling out exactly what the perfect template is for this squad of players to succeed under his stewardship.
Too many times this season, especially at Carrow Road, Norwich are neat and tidy, and solid enough at the back but they don’t get between the lines or hurt teams at the other end enough.
More galling still, is that the Canaries often struggle to create any clear-cut chances of note, and not just against some of the division’s more-equipped teams, I’m talking about the Boltons and the Burtons, both of whom we’ve drawn blanks against this season.
Perhaps growing frustrated after yet another toothless showing against Nottingham Forest last Tuesday, our sixth stalemate of the season overall and fifth at home, Farke decided to change tack against Hull City.
Plenty of fans, after watching two consecutive goalless draws at home were pleased to see the boss changing it.
But, from the off, it was Hull who were the aggressors and the hosts cultivated at least two decent chances before Jackson Irvine stroked them in front after just six minutes. To their credit, the Canaries rallied well and Maddison scored a hat-trick in just over half-an-hour to see Norwich leading by two, five minutes before the break.
Soon after though, Jamal Lewis got caught the wrong side of his man and barged into him, giving Hull a chance to cut the arrears with a penalty of their own before the break.
Referee Tim Robinson then gave Nigel Adkins’ side another spot-kick, remarkably the game’s fourth, for an infringement that I can only surmise was a figment of his imagination soon after half-time. Abel Hernandez duly converted once again to make it 3-3.
After that, Hull continued to press and create openings and Harry Wilson’s winner 20 minutes from the end was probably deserved on the balance of the second half’s play, but what was telling is how two international defenders in Grant Hanley and Timm Klose were unable to prevent a fairly ordinary side from scything through the middle of the defensive line on multiple occasions.
Harrison Reed is a makeshift right-back and Lewis is young, perhaps betraying his inexperience far more in a four than in a five, but the two central defenders can have no excuses for not doing a better job of keeping Hull at bay.
That is now something for Farke to ponder, starting at Barnsley on Tuesday evening, just exactly how he manages to find a way of marrying a tight rearguard unit with some degree of attacking thrust and potency.
I’m sure the German will be in charge at the start of next season, but the grace period will be over and he will have to hit the ground running. His time for rehearsing plans and hitting upon the magic formula is running out.