5:00 PM September 15, 2022
Six wins on the spin, second in the table and the third highest scorers in the league – but the Norwich City moaners remain remarkably out in force.
Dean Smith’s divisive side battled past an in-form Bristol City under the Carrow Road lights on Wednesday, responding to Sheffield United’s dramatic late winner at Swansea 24 hours earlier to keep up the heat at the summit of the Championship table.
It wasn’t perfect – nobody’s saying it was – and of course, despite this increasingly promising start to the campaign, City are still yet to hit their fluent, second-tier footballing straps.
But a genuine question to all those out there still hellbent on relentlessly sneering, whinging and criticizing – what more do you want from this season, exactly?
For all his recent successes and propelling the club up the table, it is rapidly becoming obvious that Smith’s biggest downfall as a Norwich City manager is the simple fact that he is not Daniel Farke.
As reflected on in this column last month, Farke and his players treated fans to the most thrilling, fun-fuelled and memorable season of the modern era – and definitely my lifetime – in 2018/19, an epoch defined by an idiosyncratic style of play we all cherished and one now indelibly etched in club folklore.
‘Farkeball’ failed to fire in the Premier League not once, but twice – either side of another magical Championship interlude – and after conspicuously scrapping that system towards the end of his Carrow Road tenure, the German lost his job.
His successor’s tactics and strategy, in addition to his general demeanor and passion for the club, may not be quite as visible but that is in no way to say that Smith is not having an impact on this team and is determined to haul City back into the top-flight.
Of course, the current run of six league wins in a row has lacked the flamboyance, flair and footballing pyrotechnics of the highlights of the Farke era, but the notion that Smith is the wrong man for the job remains totally ludicrous.
MORE: ‘I wanted to stay in the Premier League’ – Pukki
Fans are in danger of sounding increasingly spoiled, entitled and greedy when they consistently continue to criticize and write off impressive wins under Smith, meaninglessly comparing them to this fictitious, manufactured notion that City wiped the floor with every Championship team under Farke by playing like Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
The football under Farke was astonishing but in no way did that translate to hammering teams by multiple goals week in week out, campaigns characterized more by dramatic late winners and hard-fought triumphs than a myriad of maulings both at home and away.
Smith’s football is a long way from capturing City fans’ hearts but what he is quietly building at Colney is starting to resemble something of a ruthless winning machine, a team capable of racking up result after result when playing far from their best and with several key injured protagonists.
After swatting aside Huddersfield and Millwall, battling to away day triumphs at Sunderland and Birmingham and then sauntering to victory against Coventry, Smith’s side came flying out of the blocks against Nigel Pearson’s team on Wednesday.
They paid the price for inviting the visitors back into the game at the end of the first period but despite a frantic second-half Robins rally, clung on for victory thanks to that brilliant near-post header by the red-hot Josh Sargent.
Smith’s City may not be the polished, free-flowing side we all adored in the Farkeball era but it is unequivocal they are improving each week, stringing together more sustained spells of possession but often just lacking that cutting edge in the final third.
The defensive resolve struck between Andrew Omobamidele and Grant Hanley – both brilliant in midweek – has been a particularly pleasing element of the campaign and despite being hit with multiple injuries, this side continues to find ways of winning matches after enduring elongated spells under pressure.
Add Liam Gibbs, Dimitris Giannoulis and Isaac Hayden back into the mix and City will be far better equipped with the requisite balance, and midfield solidity, needed to minimize these phases and enjoy more dominant, and cohesive, periods on the ball in the ascendancy.
But in any event, and after yet another season of unrelenting Premier League misery, are some of our fans really incapable of simply enjoying winning football matches and appreciating the job Smith is unambiguously doing?
It’s time to ditch the moaning, forget about Farke and finally come to terms with the fact that Smith, no matter what the football looks like, looks to be gradually transforming City into another Championship force to be reckoned with.