Unity through our colours (@WilliamThomasJ)
‘Is that Norwich scarf?’ enquired the affable-looking fellow passenger with a European twang on my National Express coach service from London to Manchester on Sunday afternoon.
‘Yes mate,’ I responded, curious as to his intentions and desire to initiate a football-related conversation.
‘I was at the game yesterday. I’m from Finland but am studying at Keele University, and was down in London for the weekend. Me and my friend went as we wanted to see Teemu Pukki play.’
Astonished at the coincidence – the far from salubrious service had fewer that twenty passengers on it – I whipped out my AlongComeNorwich-inspired ‘Pukki Party’ t-shirt from my bag, explaining that I too had been at The Den to witness City overcoming yet another obstacle on their road to potential promotion.
The conversation naturally flowed to go on and centre around our talismanic striker. Following my reports of his brilliance at Hillsborough, the Liberty, the Macron and – of course – in South London, I was struck by the sheer degree of interest this man was taking in what Norwich City are doing at the moment.
Pukki’s twenty-four sublime league goals have not gone unnoticed. As my befriended fellow passenger explained, he is adored in Finland, admired in all corners for his clinical deeds that have contributed so heavily to City rising to the summit of the Championship table.
Much has – rightly so – been written about Pukki this season, so the intricacies of his brilliance need not be mentioned here. What bears noting, however, is that his goals have transcended Norfolk circles, attracting the attention of the international masses and eliciting respect from so many in his homeland. Long may such a trend continue.
Kenny showing shades of Jonny Howson (@CamBurton2018)
A lot of City’s success this season has boiled down to finding the right roles for our copious midfield options. After a season of evaluation, Farke has found that Vrancic and Leitner operate better in the deep-lying playmaker position as opposed to further up the pitch and that Marco Steipermann is not, in fact, a left back.
He hasn’t had that year to evaluate Kenny McLean. A player with a high motor and a sweet left foot to boot, McLean looked like the most obvious candidate to step into the hole James Maddison left. However, in part due to some injury troubles, and due to the aforementioned players holding him out, he hasn’t really sniffed the field until recently.
In his two starts, we’ve seen the best and worst of Kenny. The importance of his two goals against Bristol can’t be understated, but for large parts of the match, City was bossed around in the middle.
Again, against Millwall, McLean didn’t show the same ability to control the ball and affect the game from deep that both Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic do. That added to some defensive mishaps led to questions being asked on whether he would start the next match.
I don’t think we’ve seen anywhere near McLean’s best. Having seen some of his work at Aberdeen, McLean is a player with Howson-esque ability to drive with the ball in midfield with an even better passing range.
A true box to box midfielder, there is no place in Farke’s system that truly suits him, but the quality he possesses is too great to be ignored. If not for the emergence of Marco Steipermann, McLean would probably thrive in his role, as the opportunity to drive at the defence with the ball at his feet is arguably his greatest attribute.
Regardless of what league City are in next season, one of Farke’s tasks on hand will be developing the obvious talent of McLean.
Millwall a marker for the progression of Norwich City (@JoeHinchliffe93)
Norwich City are visibly improving with every passing week and having convincingly beat Millwall 3-1 at the Den, Daniel Farke’s Canaries have come full circle – throughout Farke’s tenure Millwall have acted as a marker of City’s progress.
Cast your minds back to the start of Farke’s reign and you will remember the humbling 4-0 defeat City suffered at the Den. On the day, City were unable to deal with the direct approach Millwall favoured in open play and via set pieces and were comfortably beaten.
That defeat raised plenty of questions regarding the new direction the club had decided to take and Daniel Farke’s philosophy was well and truly under the microscope.
Thankfully, City’s fortunes have improved since that day, which you could arguably conceive as the lowest point of Farke’s Norwich City tenure.
The box office 4-3 victory over Millwall at Carrow Road earlier in the season will live long in the memory, Millwall entered extra-time in the lead, yet City turned things around in drastic fashion, courtesy of last gasp goals from Jordan Rhodes and Teemu Pukki.
An amazing hard fought victory but perhaps not convincing.
However, the same cannot be said about this weekend’s result, having gone ahead through a Stiepermann goal, City were pegged back just before half-time – never a good time to concede – again, from a set piece.
You could argue that a few months ago a 4-3 like that we saw at Carrow Road in the reverse fixture would have ensued. But this Norwich City team is made of sterner stuff these days and by the 69th minute held a comfortable two-goal lead, the game was won.
An aerial bombardment, ferocity but a different outcome (@CJSouthwell1902)
Millwall approached this game with the same ferocity, the same aerial bombardment that they deployed in August 2017.
The outcome was radically different, not simply because they didn’t operate with the same vigour but because the Canaries dealt with the threat more competently whilst were more assured about how they asserted their own philosophy onto proceedings. Comparatively with Neil Harris, those who occupy the corridors of power at Carrow Road have constructed a culture of more quality.
Harris’ sole focus is, instead, based on endeavour and graft rather than aesthetically dominant phases of play.
Consumption of the constant barrages in both periods graphically illustrate what Harris is seeking to create. Something that marries with the reputation their support seems to feed off. Full frontal assaults were visible, namely on Emi Buendia.
The manner of which Norwich dealt with the aerial bombardment and controlled proceedings was impressive and displayed another facet to their method of operations.
Example the third goal, a goal that was of the highest quality in a ground that was intense; against opponents who prioritise physicality over style. Even some of the Millwall punters were applauding it.
Instead of having two central defenders who search for the long diagonal passes to two centre forwards, Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey opt to get it down from the sky and pass it out.
This win proved Norwich could compete with all types of sides at this level and is another tick on their promotion chart.