Robin Sainty: Improving Canaries need a 90-minute performance to prove they have turned the corner
PUBLISHED: 09:00 16 December 2017
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If someone had told me after 30 minutes of last Saturday's game that City would run out 3-1 winners I would undoubtedly have laughed in their face.
Once again, their build up had been painfully slow, a piece of dozy defending had gifted Wednesday the league and, more significantly, there had been some shocking passing, often anticipating runs which never materialised as players appeared to be on different wavelengths.
In short, it was looking very much as if the wheels were about to come off, and when Nelson Oliveira missed the chance of the half and was then brilliantly denied by Kieren Westwood I think we all feared the worst, but at least City were starting to create.
However, the renaissance really gathered pace after half-time, helped by the introduction of Marley Watkins in place of the abject Josh Murphy, who must surely now have finally exhausted his manager’s reserves of patience.
Despite his undoubted ability Murphy has increasingly looked like a little boy lost and was the epitome of anonymous on Saturday.
Whether his deteriorating performances are the result of being separated from his twin or just a loss of confidence is unclear, but I think anyone with any compassion would have recognised that his substitution was more of an act of kindness than of punishment by Daniel Farke and I hope that he can come back stronger, both mentally and physically.
Suddenly the City midfield had much better movement and greater energy in front of them and consequently the whole tempo of the game changed, with the indefatigable Harrison Reed and a significantly more assured Mario Vrancic wresting back control of midfield and freeing Alex Pritchard to do what he does best as he started to drive at the Wednesday back four at pace.
In the opening half hour, the visitors’ defence had been on cruise control, but now they suddenly found themselves forced out of their comfort zone and all at once the mistakes were being made by blue shirted players, the most glaring being the failure to get anywhere near Timm Klose as he put City in front.
While Watkins did little that would make the highlights reel, his work rate and physical presence noticeably lifted those around him, and with Oliveira responding positively to having more robust support alongside him City were suddenly pressing much higher up the pitch and with much greater energy and self belief.
Without doubt City are a much more potent force when they move the ball forward quicker and don’t allow the opposition time to get settled and hopefully that trend will continue.
However, while the win will lift everyone’s spirits for the moment, there are still issues to be addressed, and while the return to fitness of Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey are very welcome, City’s lack of width is still a concern, as is Marco Stiepermann’s defensive qualities at left-back, a position in which he looks far from comfortable at times.
The return of James Husband and Jamal Lewis, so impressive in pre-season, will give Farke more options there and perhaps allow Stiepermann to play in his favoured left midfield slot, but the real key is the fitness of Pritchard, because his directness provides an X factor that has been lacking, despite the sterling efforts of James Maddison.
The last two games have suggested that Farke is learning that he must adapt his basic philosophy to meet the realities of Championship football, and good halves against Cardiff and Wednesday are all well and good, but those standards have to be achieved consistently over 90 minutes, not just 45.
Today’s game should be interesting with City sure to be buoyed by the win and taking more confidence into this game against a Leeds United team that has lost three of its last five home matches. Let’s hope that last week wasn’t a false dawn.