An important win on Wednesday night against Cardiff City means that we take on the league leaders, Norwich City, with a reduced threat of dropping into the bottom three were we to lose. For the first time in a few games, there is little pressure on the team to get a result, but maintaining a sense of momentum could prove important ahead of the run of fixtures to come against our likely rivals for relegation.
For teams that win promotion, it’s about bouncing back from defeats. For teams that avoid relegation, it’s about building on victories. While there is little expectation or pressure on the result in this game, the nature of the performance is likely to be telling of the mentality of this squad and our desire to move up the division now that we have a modicum of breathing room away from the bottom three.
There are set to be two notable absentees for Mark Robins to deal with for this game – Marko Marosi in goal and Sam McCallum at left wing-back – which could well disrupt a sense of continuity from the past two games.
With Sam McCallum ineligible to play against his parent club, it is likely to force Mark Robins into reverting to a back three due to Ryan Giles’ lack of experience as a full-back. Unless the manager trusts Giles to play as part of a back four, the most viable alternative in order for us to stick with the current shape would be to stick either Leo Ostigard or Josh Pask at right-back and move Fankaty Dabo over to the left. It seems too big a shake-up when moving back to the back three would keep as many players in their natural positions as possible.
The knock-on impact of switching to a back three will be on how the midfield and forwards line-up. Either Maxime Biamou will come back into the team to form a strike partnership with Tyler Walker or Callum O’Hare will be brought in and we’ll go with the 3-4-2-1 system from last season. The most likely option seems to be going with a front two, but given Mark Robins’ recent proclivity for surprise team selections, it isn’t certain.
In goal, a fractured cheekbone for Marko Marosi is likely to keep him out for the next few games at the very least. With a back-up goalkeeper in Ben Wilson who has yet to reach 50 career league appearances at the age of 28, Mark Robins has made it clear that he is looking to bring in a more experienced option on a short-term deal. At the time of writing, it’s not certain that a senior goalkeeper will arrive in time for this game and whether they will be in a condition to start. It underlines the folly of having a back-up goalkeeper that you have no intention of playing.
Last Time We Met
Having missed out on promotion under Tony Mowbray the previous season, our last meeting with Norwich City was a demonstration of just how much worse the team that our former manager had made the team with his terrible transfer business the following summer. It was an experience made worse more tormenting by the involvement of two former members of that exciting Tony Mowbray Coventry City side, James Maddison and Jacob Murphy, who were heavily involved as part of a second-string Norwich City side that tore us apart with ruthless ease.
It was a truly terrible Coventry City side that were thoroughly shellacked that evening, with a past-it Sam Ricketts in defence, Vladimir Gadzhev in central midfield and a strike pairing of Kyel Reid and Dan Agyei, along with a host of youngsters who were not quite ready for first-team football.
The Manager – Daniel Farke
The charismatic German has overseen a revitalisation at Norwich City over the past three seasons. Benefitting from some smart recruitment, Farke has seen an overpaid and underperforming Norwich side become younger, more intelligent and more exuberant . Promotion to the Premier League two years ago was built on the strength of their attack, while relegation was brought-on by an inability to defend. Having retained large swathes of their promotion-winning squad, Norwich have played like a side determined to bounce-back at the first attempt – less exciting than their previous season at this level but much more streetwise at the back.
Norwich are the form side in the Championship over the past six and ten games, with their last defeat coming at the start of October – surprisingly, at the hands of rock bottom Derby County. While their season has been defined by better discipline at the back, they are capable of playing some devastating attacking football when teams give them the opportunity to.
Who To Look Out For
Norwich City are contending with a horrendous injury crisis at the moment and while they have been in form recently in spite of it, the absence of key attacking players, Teemu Pukki and Emiliano Buendia is a huge boost for us for this game. In fact, Norwich look set to be without a fit senior striker for this game, leaving utility player, Marco Stiepermann the most likely to fill in up top.
In midfield, Norwich are better set to weather their current injury crisis. Even without the creative talents of Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell, they can call upon the passing talent of Mario Vrancic with the pace and skill of Przemyslaw Placheta and Josh Martin out wide. Sitting deeper, Daniel Farke can either deploy the defensive-minded combination of Oliver Skipp and Alexander Tettey or bring in Lukas Rupp for more quality in possession.
At the back, Norwich have been short on numbers all season – making the decision to loan out Sam McCallum particularly odd – but still possess plenty of quality with a central defensive pairing of the dominant Ben Gibson and Grant Hanley, with Barcelona-linked, Max Aarons, a significant threat from right-back. In goal, Tim Krul has rejuvenated his career since joining Norwich three years ago, but could be out of this game after going off injured against Stoke City last time out.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Both teams are contending with some pretty significant absences for this game. On the one hand, Norwich City’s injury list is much more vast than our own. On the other, Norwich can still call upon some very strong performers for this level of football, which has been evidenced by their recent run of form.
Without a natural centre-forward, Norwich could struggle to convert possession into chances in this game but the concern for us is that the mobility of that forward line and the quality of Mario Vrancic on the ball to play their forwards in could pick holes in our defence, which is likely to be adapting back to playing in a three.
Both teams are likely to be concerned about how a stand-in goalkeeper will affect their confidence at the back. Norwich’s Michael McGovern has barely played over the past four seasons and, when he has, has struggled to command his area. Whether it’s Ben Wilson or Lee Camp in goal for us, there are similar worries over rustiness and a lack of understanding between defence and goalkeeper.
This looks set to be a disjointed game which could well be decided by a glaring error at either end of the pitch.