Birmingham City 0-2 Norwich City Six Things: nimble Canaries

Murphy and Tettey celebrate the second –

Birmingham City’s 2-0 defeat to Norwich City on Saturday afternoon was a game in which blood and guts was outdone by skill and finesse, thanks to goals from Alex Pritchard and Josh Murphy. Here’s six things from the match.

Blues’ competitive start

Steve Cotterill’s side pressed well in the first half hour, with Michael Morrison dominating Nelson Oliveira and Craig Gardner showing invention in midfield. Maikel Kieftenbeld sat behind Cheikh N’Doye, who supported Lukasz Jutkiewicz in closing down centre-backs Christoph Zimmerman and Timm Klose. Midfielders Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull, starting together for the first time since a five-game unbeaten run in September, showed respect to the hosts, for whom Jutkiewicz fired wide on 10 minutes. Birmingham’s best effort came on 26 minutes, when Jonathan Grounds’ left footed curling effort forced an impressive save from Angus Gunn.

Clinical Canaries

For all Birmingham’s endeavour and pressure in that first half hour, it is a damning indictment of their attacking problems that the only real test for Gunn was provided by Grounds, normally a defensive left-back. Because the hosts aren’t used to being in the final third, they showed a lack of confidence there that we didn’t see from Norwich. James Maddison orchestrated play through the middle and though on 29 minutes the 21-year-old’s setup was scuffed wide by Pritchard, the duo would combine for the opener five later. Maddison’s training ground free-kick split open the opposing defence to find his teammate, who rifled home inside the near post.

Subs brief impact

Pritchard could have put the game to bed before the break but he and Oliveira were kept out by a fine double-save from Stockdale. At the interval, Cotterill introduced David Davis and Jacques Maghoma and both improved the tempo from the home side, who shot more willingly. However, the quality of shooting remained limited with Gardner especially wasteful and Kieftenbeld blasting just over from outside the box on 49 minutes.

Visitors took control

Having weathered the storm, Norwich took advantage of the host’s declining energy levels by keeping the ball. While Pritchard, Oliveira, Maddison and the Tettey-Trybull tenacity team combined quickly and cutely in central areas, right-back Ivo Pinto and left winger Murphy held the width, waiting their moment. The latter’s came on 71 minutes when he went on a rare foray inside to get on the end of Pritchard’s pin-point pass to round the goalkeeper before slotting home.

Faith in Farke

This blog, from the outside, had questioned head coach Daniel Farke on the basis of results, which remain less than desirable for a squad of Norwich’s potential. However, that kind of performance re-enforces the view that the German is building a team that can not necessarily out-fight opponents, but out-think them. Repeat that display consistently in 2018 and maybe – just maybe – the board’s faith in Farke’s long-term vision could be vindicated.

Bleak midwinter at St Andrews

Birmingham’s performance didn’t show a team that had given up – there were periods during which the fight was there. The problem is that Blues aren’t playing with the confidence – or the personnel – to capitalize during their better spells and so either need to sustain the intensity of their play for longer, or become more ruthless when openings arise. Results elsewhere means that the gap to safety remains three points – that’s retrievable on paper but with 12 goals scored in 24, optimism in B9 is a scarce commodity.