From devastation to jubilation and back full circle, Norwich City’s return to competitive action was marked in dramatic fashion.
Football is back, and so to is the drama, ecstasy and despair.
A last gasp equaliser away from home, almost a carbon copy of the opening day fixture last season, although this time nobody opted to throw their shirt at the manager.
Admittedly, periods of the game were too loose and ponderous, but ultimately Norwich were able to nick something away from home. That is something which needs to become a regular occurrence if there are to be any real ambitions to push beyond the middle of the table.
Birmingham (a) ⚽️
— Chris Reeve (@ChrisReevo) August 4, 2018
The pendulum swung either way during the match, with both sides enjoying periods of pressure but also self inflicting trouble by being loose in possession.
Norwich started bright. The ball was passed with energy and purpose, but that early pressure was dampened by a lateral middle of the first half whereby it resorted to the percentage football witnessed last season, as oppose to attempting to create anything meaningful.
At points, there was variation. Norwich tried longer passes to get Jordan Rhodes in the game, and he dealt with this balls adequately whilst bringing others into play. They struggled to get the on loan Scot into the game in the second half, with him uncharacteristically failing to convert from a wonderful Leitner cross.
Now the dust has settled, I hope Farke realises that we do have attacking talent that should be unleashed at the start of games. Fair play for great ending but team selection did baffle me tbh. #canarycall #ncfc
— Mike Ward (@mjtward19) August 4, 2018
Those expecting Norwich to revolutionise their methodology after the underwhelm of last season may be disappointed. Norwich probed and passed without threatening in long periods of the game, and required an injection of offensive impetus from Kenny McLean and Moritz Leitner.
McLean ran beyond the play, the sort of off the ball movement that hasn’t been seen at Norwich since Jonny Howson’s departure. There was always a desire to receive the ball and play from both players, and Norwich looked more productive while they were on the pitch.
The balance is difficult though, last season proved that operating without a combative midfielder can prove costly, but the line-up seemed to restrict how Norwich played through the thirds.
Leitner and McLean supplied more forward thinking passes, and were braver and more direct on the football. Operating with Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull supplied the pragmatism required in this division, but the lack of a natural ball player was pertinent for long periods of the game.
Don’t think any #NCFC fan can slag off Russ Martin now… Farke has chosen not to play him, and he’s still travelling to the games with his kids to support the team, legend.
— Ben Halpin (@benhalpin2911) August 4, 2018
It felt as though Farke had let fear and past experiences cloud his judgement in his selection. After the friendly at Charlton last week, Tettey’s reinstatement was unsurprising. He is a man who needs to mirror that back line when fit, but the disequilibrium in the remainder of Norwich’s midfield proved costly.
Let’s not forget, Tettey and Trybull was Norwich’s best midfield combination last campaign, and with the latter holding in the majority of pre season, Norwich looked a soft touch in midfield. It’s also easy to forget the fact Tettey came into this match effectively without playing a pre season game.
Hindsight is a wonderful tool in football, but the most important factor is that Farke rectified a laboured midfield. The difference this season is he has a bench full of options that he trusts.
One of those substitutes, Dennis Srbeny, delivered his finest piece of work in yellow and green by breaking through the thirds with purpose and strength before slipping a wonderfully weighted pass for Hernandez to finish.
Farke described it as similar to Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi, but how beneficial could this moment prove to be for the German, who resembled a more assured operator in comparison to the nervous, reclusive striker witnessed last season.
Srbeny looked a different player in his brief cameo. He oozed confidence, backed into defenders and linked play. He may not have offered a goal threat, but his work was selfless and created space for others. He needed a big moment, and boy did he deliver when Norwich needed it most.
Since Daniel Farke took over, Norwich City have scored six equalisers in the 88th minute or later (Fulham, Hull, Ipswich, Wolves, Sunderland, Birmingham)
— NCFC Numbers (@ncfcnumbers) August 4, 2018
Ultimately, it was Hernandez who saved the day.
Prior to his first goal, Hernandez was largely invisible. He was required to do a high degree of defensive work due to James Husband’s struggle.
The difference between this Hernandez performance and those of last season was end product.With James Maddison and Josh Murphy leaving, both taking with them a number of goals, Hernandez has an opportunity to grasp the mantle and become a talisman.
He manipulated space and showed composure in front of goal. His initial goal probably should have been saved, but the second personified confidence. If Norwich can get Hernandez firing on all cyclinders, they have a real player on their hands.
Ben Marshall showed his capabilities in an eye catching debut for the Canaries. His athleticism and technical quality could provide a profitable supply line for Norwich to exploit this season. Consistency is now key for the new boy.
Without Jamal Lewis at left back, Norwich lacked quality. Both James Husband and Marco Stiepermann looked out of their depth. The former with some characteristic lapses in concentration and the latter looking defensively poor.
IF Srbeny had been signed in the summer, I think we’d all be pretty excited on the back of his cameo today
But then, IF I knew what I was talking about, I’d be a footy hack and have a blue tick on my Twitter account #ncfc
— Stevo (@StevoCook) August 4, 2018
The quicker Norwich can nurse Lewis back to health, the better.
Overall, an intriguing display from Norwich. It felt restrictive at points, and lacked energy which was later provided by McLean and Leitner. Farke needs to believe in his side offensively, and let them off the reigns when they attack.
There were positives, both individually and collectively, but crucially, Norwich ensured they left with something, and that point needs to be used as the foundation for improvement.
The paths of these sides could be similar on the basis of this equal affair, but Norwich will be hoping to push on.