Ahead of Saturday's visit to Carrow Road, we got the lowdown on Norwich City from Eastern Daily Press reporter Paddy Davitt.
How would you sum up the first half of the season for Norwich?
Within the camp, Norwich feel they are three-to-four points shy of a total more reflective of their efforts. It is hard to argue with that assessment. Certainly in the first 11 league games, the level of performance deserved more points, but they were punished for collective naivety in crucial periods of games and individual errors. There were very few below-par displays. Ironically, the trip to St Mary’s was probably one of those, when they had no answer to a slick Saints side that day. But seven points from the last 12 suggest they have cut out the basic errors and found a level of consistency which, if they can maintain it over the second part of the season, should see them achieve their main objective - survival on their first season back after promotion from the Championship.
How is the team’s confidence right now after some of their impressive recent results?
From the outside looking in, confidence has never seemingly been an issue, despite a prolonged downturn in results during the autumn period. Alex Neil believes in his methods and the quality he has in his squad, but clearly dropping into the bottom three, as they did for a week or two recently, can have a negative impact. To their credit, a first win at Manchester United since 1989 just before Christmas was the type of result that can give fans and players a massive boost.
What is the style of play like under Alex Neil?
Constantly evolving. Neil, by nature since he came to Norwich in January 2015, is a manager who likes to dominate the ball in midfield and pin teams back with good possession. That is what carried them to promotion from the Championship and it is how they attacked the Premier League in the early months, but Neil has shown a more pragmatic side when the positive results dried up. City’s win at Old Trafford was a perfect counter-attacking display, where they let the hosts have the ball and hit them on the break with the pace of Nathan Redmond and the power of Cameron Jerome.
Norwich’s home form looks to have been excellent recently. Are they a different proposition at home, compared to when they’re playing away?
It certainly looks that way now with the recent home results. Norwich have drawn against Arsenal and Everton and picked up that vital win against Aston Villa earlier this week, but prior to this spell, they had actually struggled to put teams away at Carrow Road. The sea change coincided with a switch to a more pragmatic playing style. City’s supporters clearly appreciate it is tough to dominate the ball against the better sides in this league and that patience and understanding on the terraces has been reflected in the upturn in home results.
Who are the key men to watch out for?
Norwich’s on-loan striker Dieumerci Mbokani had his best game for the club in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa. The DR Congo international is a powerhouse of a frontman, excellent in the air but technically deceptively good. Mbokani has played for the likes of Anderlecht and Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League so he clearly has the pedigree to score goals in the Premier League. At the back, Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett have forged a decent understanding in recent weeks and, like Mbokani, they were very secure against a dangerous customer in Jordan Ayew earlier this week.
How do you see Saturday’s game going?
Saints were excellent in that 3-0 win in the corresponding Premier League fixture, albeit Norwich’s cause was not helped by Steven Whittaker’s first-half red card. Sadio Mané and Dušan Tadić ran the show that day and if Norwich fail to deal with the threat in wide areas it is going to be another fraught afternoon at Carrow Road. That said, City are in an encouraging run of form and the visitors look nowhere near as dominant as when the sides last met, based on recent results, so I can see a draw and something for both to build on at the start of 2016. 1-1.