Happy New Year! Norwich City began 2019 with a difficult looking away fixture at Griffin Park to face inform Brentford. Head of Connor Southwell analyses the action.

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On reflection, Daniel Farke and Norwich City may conclude that this draw against Brentford is very much a point gained considering the results of both Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion.

Yet, Norwich had to huff and puff in a game where they lacked control and were suitably second best for extended periods with a demanding festive period clashing with an ever-extending injury list to result in a largely lethargic and off-colour performance in the capital.

The hosts exuded energy and were in the ascendancy with some breath-taking offensive movement that underlines how Thomas Frank is gradually beginning to work his philosophical approach onto his side.

Operating in a 3-4-3 was an altogether different proposition that Norwich needed to overcome.

Supporters are quick to finger wag and place blame on players after underperformance; to an extent that’s correct however Norwich’s bedraggled approach can also be linked to the mounting injuries and density of fixtures over the festive period. They are continuing to find methods of picking up points against adversity, for that they deserve credit.

However, sometimes you have to credit the quality of the opponents, and tactically, Brentford formulated a system that counteracted Norwich’s possession-based game.

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Prior to Jordan Rhodes’ arrival and an adaptation of the formation they were adopting, Norwich seemed flat and tepid, in particular struggling to grasp control of midfield.

Brentford tucked their wing-backs into midfield in order to create a two versus one scenario against Norwich’s central midfielders. Mario Vrancic was responsible for numerous concessions in possession due to the pressure being applied by the Bee’s players rather than Norwich’s deficiencies and lack of passing ability.

Many supporters consuming this fixture would have been cursing given the frustrating passages of play.

Norwich played the entirety of the first half without recording a single shot on target, anyone who has consumed the Canaries this campaign will recognise their offensive potency, something they’ve possessed in abundance.

This statistic acts as a damning indictment of their performance in the opening exchanges. It was, brutally, as poor as Norwich have been to date in this campaign.

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Evidently, they lacked key operators who possess supreme technical quality that aid the deployment of their philosophical approach onto games including Moritz Leitner, Emi Buendia and Jamal Lewis. Yet, this group have a knack of producing the unthinkable and coming back time and time again. They are never prepared to surrender.

If Rocky Balboa could assign his infamous quote about getting hit, it would be married with Norwich City.

The Championship is a division dependant on amassing points in an unrelenting fashion. Teams who master consistency despite not managing to perform with aplomb at every occasion usually find themselves at the top end of the division.

Hence the success managers such as Steve Bruce, Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock have enjoyed at this level.

Norwich have proved they can find points despite underperforming and going behind; that’s grit and determination personified.

They deserve immense credit for the fightback they showed, especially considering it seemed so unlikely for spells in that game. Some will even regard it their most impressive and arguably, their most important point to date.

Had Norwich not of sourced a route back into the fixture, then Farke would have been left to answer searing questions regarding his team selection.

The relentless nature of the Christmas period coupled with the ever-increasing length of Norwich’s injury list made this a game where rotation seemed likely.

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Undoubtedly, Farke will have flirted with the idea of rotating players and saving energy but with the prospective cup tie on the horizon and a 10-day hiatus prior to a critical game against West Brom, Farke opted to get through this game with the bodies he’s entrusted previously.

He will have wanted to retain the rhythm and self-confidence Norwich have shown this season.

Farke holds the keys to thorough sports science evidence and fitness coaches inundated with every fact, figure and reading humanly possible to allow him to select players who are only in peak physical condition.

Thankfully, the injury bulletin seems to hold a more positive outlook ahead of that aforementioned league fixture at the Hawthorns.

There is an argument about the significance of this point to the promotion race Norwich are currently attempting to embark on. Those who opt to perceive things from a glass half empty perspective will rush to highlight Norwich’s one win in five and point nervously towards the goals conceded column of the league table.

Considering the backdrop to this fixture, that may seem a touch harsh.

But, it’s the level in which Norwich are currently operating. The frenetic nature of this division means a blip is entirely plausible, and this could be Norwich’s downturn in form.

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Recall Bristol City, a game in which Norwich struggled to locate top gear, even Blackburn was enduring at points before a chaotic duo of home fixtures against Forest and Derby. Despite Norwich’s early dominance against the Rams, they’ve had a period of underperformance which coincides with injuries to key protagonists.

If this is to be Norwich’s rocky period, then to consolidate their position in the top two, even with the gap between 2nd and 3rd reducing is impressive. Dependant on how full your glass is, it’s either opportunities wasted, or waves being ridden, the key is ensuring this blip doesn’t become a troubling rut.

Set pieces are still a noticeable Achilles heel, and Farke’s memo of ensuring his players possessed desire and aggression in attacking the delivery was seemingly missed by his operators. Zonal marking can be an adept system of defending set pieces, but Farke may need to explore alternate options in order to prevent this from hurting Norwich’s points return.

One man they will have to thank is Tim Krul.

For all his doubters and despite the naysayers, Krul has proved himself to be a valuable cog of the Norwich City clockwork in this campaign. He’s made mistakes, but of late his form has been impressive and the technique being deployed to make instinctive reflex saves merely reinforce the talent he possesses in his gloves.

After his career stagnating, returning to the first team at Norwich City was always going to a physical and mental culture shock, even for someone of his experience.

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Comparisons of goalkeepers who have played in the past are futile, but his experience and characteristics will benefit this squad, one which possesses a largely youthful nucleus. His experience is invaluable, both as a communicator for the younger operators but also his commanding presence and distributional qualities to allow Norwich to build out from the back.

Krul deserves more credit than he receives, and it’s the time that the intense and harmful scrutiny surrounding any goal conceded being his fault is stopped. He’ll be responsible for more points gained than lost; that was proved at Griffin Park.

Respite from the intensity of league football arrives in the form of a tasty FA Cup tie against high-flying Portsmouth.

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The stakes are high at present, and this game will undoubtedly be identified as one whereby rotation can be used to allow those on the fringes the opportunity to strut their stuff. Farke will be expected to shuffle his pack, especially considering the ever-dawning reality of the importance of ensuring this positive energy continues.

Equally, any cup run has the potential to derail or distract Norwich from what really matters and is simply another opportunity for players to pick up injuries to key players.

January could be a decisive month in Norwich’s bid to mount a promotion challenge and where they lay come the East Anglian Derby in February could prove to be pivotal. Question is, how big is their reserve and can they grind out results against those also towards the summit of the table.

Both of those questions will be answered soon.

Connor Southwell

Managing the TNC website, Connor's adherence with Norwich City manifested itself from an early age and has been a rollercoaster, witnessing football from League One to the Premier League. He once played a bit too, Connor attempts to write sensibly and honestly. Which is hard being a NCFC fan!

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