Birmingham City 2-2 Norwich City Six Things: fair result


MOTM – Onel Hernandez

After an action-packed second half, Birmingham City drew 2-2 with Norwich City in the opening game of the 2018-19 Championship season. Here’s six things from the game.

Flexible Norwich

Norwich set up as a 4-2-3-1 out of possession, with Tommy Trybull and Alex Tettey in the double-pivot, but the latter dropped deeper when they won the ball back to form a 3-3-3-1 of sorts. Wide man Onel Hernandez and withdrawn forward Teemu Pukki switched roles impressively, as did right-siders Ben Marshall and Marco Stiepermann. The latter duo combined nicely for Marshall to cross for Jordan Rhodes, who saw his eighth-minute header brilliantly tipped over by Birmingham debutant Connal Trueman. Given that Norwich were often criticized for predictable play last season, the spontaneity of their movement in B9 offers room for encouragement.

Maghoma needed high up

Birmingham were honest enough in the first half but the midfielders weren’t able to engage with the ball as early as they might have liked, so Jacques Maghoma was often needed in his defensive third. The winger did well there, but Blues’ spell of pressure at the start of the second half shows he’s too big an asset in the final third to be over-burdened defensively. Because Norwich ‘right-back’ Marshall was often caught high up the pitch in transition, there were gaps in behind that Maghoma exploited. After seeing an initial effort from outside the area blocked on 56 minutes, the ex-Wednesday man smashed the ball into the roof of the net to put the hosts in front.

Subs key for the Canaries

For at least the first 18 minutes of the second half – and perhaps the closing stages of the first – Norwich had looked in danger of relapsing back into this non-committal, sideways outfit we saw last season; but that was before Daniel Farke made three vital substitutions. Moritz Leitner added creativity from deep, Kenny McLean craft from the left while forward Denis Srbeny looked like a man with a point to prove.

Late drama

Kristian Pedersen, Birmingham’s only summer signing, had looked a tad suspect positionally. The left-back was caught out by Marshall’s ball in behind for the outstanding Hernandez, who sold Harlee Dean and Maikel Kieftenbeld dummies, before equalizing with a tame effort that Trueman might have kept out. Norwich dominated the latter stages and while Viv Soloman-Otabor outfoxed Grant Hanley to put Blues in front out of the blue, a home win would have been harsh on Norwich, who were spared a point thanks to Hernandez’s cool 94th-minute finish.

Have the Yellows improved?

One of the main criticisms levelled at Farke’s regime at Carrow Road is the lack of width. Perhaps though, his side could start to make up for that by having lots of players who are comfortable in different positions and for much of this contest, that allowed them to attain reasonable control of proceedings. They did look open – especially in wide areas and in transition – not helped by the ambiguity of having few players assigned set positions. However, the lack of investment and sale of key players means this has to be considered a work in progress; Saturday’s draw represents a steady start.

Mixed display from Birmingham

For brief spells, most notably at the beginning of the second half, Garry Monk’s side attacked with pace and aggression, causing real problems for Norwich. However, the way the team attacked required a lot of energy and, as we saw, it can be difficult to sustain that intensity for a whole half, let alone for 90 minutes. While Blues’ drive and passion was a very satisfying aspect of their performance, the next step is to become more selective about how and when attacks are constructed.