When Timm Klose hobbled off at half-time at Portman Road and Ben Godfrey’s number four was held aloft by the fourth official fifteen minutes later, many of those among the 2000+ travelling contingent in the Cobbold Stand grimaced at the prospect of losing such an experienced defensive asset at the expense of our young recruit from York City.
Godfrey had been fast-tracked into the side as Klose’s replacement following his terrific display in South Wales in midweek, a performance that fully legitimated Daniel Farke’s pre-match call that he had the ability to become a ‘world-class’ centre-back if he fulfilled his potential.
Godfrey was superb at Cardiff, demonstrating considerable competence in possession and winning headers, tackles and intercepting balls for ninety splendid Carabao Cup minutes.
The addition of Godfrey on Sunday lunchtime altered the composition of City’s backline from one characterised by relative second-tier experience – Grant Hanley and Klose know this league well – to one with an average age of a mere 21.
Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis occupied the full-back roles, tasks they undertook with remarkable adeptness both defensively as well as going forward.
Farke’s boldness in deploying such a youthful backline in a fixture of this stature deserves credit.
While Godfrey’s half-time addition – that effectively functioned as evidence of Christoph Zimmerman’s demotion to fourth-choice centre-half at Carrow Road – served to underline this most visibly, it was similarly his call to elect for Aarons at right-back over Felix Passlack that also delineated his commitment to instilling a refreshingly youthful meritocracy at the club.
We’re all acutely aware that results have not been going City’s way this season.
Although we have played some decent stuff at times that has seen us move the ball with more pace, rhythm and purpose than we did during last season’s drab campaign – think Birmingham, West Brom and that first twenty minutes of the Leeds game – Farke’s team have regrettably failed to sustain such performances over a full ninety minutes.
Indeed, it has been this inability to maintain this attacking cohesion that has led to us mustering a mere five points from our six games so far.
But that’s not to say there aren’t numerous positives occurring at Norwich City at the moment. The club is in safe hands under the leadership of both Stuart Webber and Steve Stone, two men I bumped into outside the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday evening and who were more than willing to chat and reflect on a triumphant City performance.
The wage bill has been cut and the books are being balanced. Our recruitment is improving. Most of all, however, we have a head coach who is committed to a system of rewarding youthful promise and trusting it to deliver on the biggest stage of all.
Even from someone who made the 450-mile trip to Cardiff and witnessed the precocious performances of Godfrey and Aarons, the notion that both of them would feature in the East Anglian derby remained a preposterous one until 11am on Sunday morning.
I fully expected Farke to revert to his more experienced starters in the heat of the battle at Portman Road, possibly playing Passlack – who has made fourteen appearances for Borussia Dortmund and fourteen more away on loan – after his equally impressive performance on Tuesday evening.
But how wrong I was.
The surprise at the Station Hotel pub when the teams were announced was palpable, with Farke similarly rewarding Eni Buendia’s enterprising performance in the cup with another start south of the Norfolk border.
Although Buendia struggled at times against Ipswich and failed to make any sort of significant impact on the game, Farke’s courage in bringing in both our Argentinian recruit as well as Aarons fully outlined his admirable commitment to youth and his meritocratic values.
Farke’s tactics may appear stubborn to many observers, with his failure to adapt to the demands of the Championship and his intransigent insistence on ponderous build-up play frequently frustrating many of the yellow and green persuasion.
However, what City fans cannot deny is the way in which he and Webber have instilled a more youthful, hungry and united approach at the club, removing any egos and ensuring that our squad is made up of driven and motivated young players with a fervent desire to succeed.
You could see it in Moritz Leitner’s eloquent post-match interview. You could see it in Godfrey’s, Aarons’, Buendia’s and Denis Srbeny’s performances at Cardiff last Tuesday night. You could see it in Christoph Zimmerman’s behaviour both on and off the field during his time at the club so far.
Most conspicuously, you could see it in the way in which these young warriors showed so much fight and rallied so tenaciously at 1-0 down and away from home in a raucous East Anglian derby.
This is a club going about things the right way, recruiting the right sort of individuals and seeking to instil a footballing culture that fans can be proud of.
So no, we are yet to witness any form of tangible improvement when you look at the league table. No, this hasn’t been the start of the season that any fan of Norwich City would have wanted.
However, if Farke continues to fulfil his commitment to youth, continues his desire to blood home-grown talent and continues to champion performance over reputation, I truly believe that this is a team who can go on to achieve great things in the correct way.
Patience really is still required.