Norwich v Hull: Canaries flying

Zimmermann has adjusted quickly – edp24.co.uk

After Norwich City concluded August with a 4-0 thrashing at Millwall, few predicted that they would concede just one goal in their next six and go joint-top of the Championship form table.

Grant Hanley’s deadline day arrival was designed to improve a defence that had conceded 12 goals in five games. Improve it did, even if that had more to do with Timm Klose’s return to the side, the Swiss centre-back forming a rock-solid pairing with Christoph Zimmermann.

The duo have benefited from defensive midfield tweaks that were made after the trip to the Den. They now play behind a double-pivot comprising the tenacious Tom Trybull and the powerful Alex Tettey, whose first league appearances this term coincided directly with the spike in form. Right-back Ivo Pinto has relished the captaincy and even left-back James Husband, much maligned in the first month, is gaining confidence in a better system.

That sturdy sextet faces the league’s top scorers, which is on paper a daunting challenge. Teenage academy graduate Jarrod Bowen (whose rise The Football Lab predicted last season) has put in a series of vibrant displays, culminating in seven goals before October.

The energetic wide forward became the club’s first player to achieve that feat since Stuart Elliott, who bagged 27 goals from out wide during their 04/05 fourth tier promotion campaign. Kamil Grosicki has given Hull plenty of creativity with his effective wide play while Frazier Campbell has been directly involved in four goals in his last 139 minutes of football.

Although those players have done well, there may be more to Hull’s record of 22 goals in 11 games than meets the eye. 15 of their goals came in four home games against bottom four opposition, including a 6-1 win over Birmingham prior to the international break. They deserve credit for those performances, yet their form looks less impressive when we consider that they have scored one goal per game against everyone else, without keeping any clean sheets.

Goalkeeper Allan McGregor was key to the previous promotion campaign but he had a horrendous night at Derby last month and is yet to truly command his area this term. Despite the theoretical stability two ever-present centre-backs might provide, Michael Hector and namesake Dawson haven’t been at their best in a defence that has shipped 19 in 11.

The Tigers’ dodgy defending will provide encouragement for whichever striker starts up top for the hosts. That could be Cameron Jerome, who netted the winner at Reading last week and has contributed to three consecutive away wins with his relentless graft up top. The other option is Nelson Oliveira, who is a little more enigmatic but perhaps needs fewer chances to score, evidenced by his superior strike rate.

Either player could cause problems for Hull, who must put in a strong performance to suggest they are anything more than flat-track bullies.

The Football Lab’s Verdict: 2-1