Sport

Norwich on top – but only just

Eleven games into their return to the Championship, Norwich City find themselves leading the pack on goal difference as Neil Adams continues to grow in the manager’s hotseat. The Canaries have lost only twice in the League (on each occasion to teams in the top eight), have struck the most goals in the division and, with the return of talismanic midfielder Jonny Howson from injury, Norwich look set to continue their promotion challenge following the international break.

There is a slight problem however; Norwich have failed to win in four home fixtures against Bournemouth, Birmingham, Charlton and Rotherham – all sides that City really must be beating to keep ahead of the chasing pack – and should consider themselves somewhat fortunate that neither Nottingham Forest nor Watford have yet overtaken them. So after convincing home wins against the Hornets and Blackburn Rovers in August, what’s behind the Canaries’ poor recent home form?

A change of formation has played a significant role in this reversal of fortunes. Previously, Norwich operated a 4-3-2-1 with Alexander Tettey and Bradley Johnson holding, and Kyle Lafferty, Wes Hoolahan and Nathan Redmond playing behind Lewis Grabban as the lone striker. After the Cardiff game, in which super-sub Cameron Jerome helped Norwich to change a two-goal deficit into victory, Adams has continued to field two strikers, but the team’s overall performances have suffered as a result. Norwich have not won a game, or even led at home since Callum Wilson’s equaliser for Bournemouth back in August.

With both Jerome and Grabban on six for the season, it makes clear sense to have both prolific scorers on the pitch. But facilitating the additional man up front without compromising the midfield has so far proven difficult. This, combined with the necessity of playing the club’s longest serving current player Wes Hoolahan in a more central role, has forced Norwich to experiment with a lopsided 4-2-2-2 formation, the only source of width coming from Redmond and fullback Martin Olsson.

This has proven detrimental to Norwich’s counter-attacking style of play, which relied on packing the midfield and constantly winning the ball, then breaking forward in numbers. With drive coming from the three attacking midfielders and one of either Johnson or Tettey, the constant pressure Norwich put on their opponents in the early games played a decisive role in their success. More recently however, the midfield has been laboured and forced to play narrow, allowing the opposition to get behind the ball and frustrate them. The Canaries’ hesitancy in the final third was all too evident in the disappointing draw to Rotherham, where Jerome again saved a point after Norwich had gone behind.

Nevertheless, the Canaries still have considerable cause for optimism, with their glittering away form making up for disappointments at home. Norwich followed up that fantastic 4-2 win against Cardiff by beating a resilient Brentford and relegation strugglers Blackpool, scoring ten goals in the process.

Despite the disappointing final score, one must also take the positives from the Rotherham game; a goal down after Norwich keeper John Ruddy had felled Matt Derbyshire in the box, Adams made some astute tactical substitutions, switching to three at the back and bringing on Lafferty and Josh Murphy, both forwards. His ambition – totally lacking in predecessor Chris Hughton – was duly rewarded when Jerome knocked in the rebound from Lafferty’s free-kick.

Despite the dropped points, there’s a unity and a palpable sense of belief around Carrow Road right now. The supporters, the players and the staff all know that, as long as they all continue to get it right, this club can get back to where it belongs.

14/10/2014

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rossperkins