Norwich's season has turned a corner through defensive tightening... now the search turns to goals

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Teemu Pukki of Norwich City reacts after having his shot saved by Robert Sanchez of Brighton & Hove Albion (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Brighton & Hove Albion at Carrow Road on October 16, 2021 in Norwich, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Teemu Pukki of Norwich City reacts after having his shot saved by Robert Sanchez of Brighton & Hove Albion (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Norwich City and Brighton & Hove Albion at Carrow Road on October 16, 2021 in Norwich, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Two games undefeated, two games without conceding a goal. A corner has been turned for Norwich City. On Saturday, they were denied three points against a Brighton & Hove Albion by Teemu Pukki and, especially, Josh Sargent’s prodigal finishing. As head coach Daniel Farke noted afterwards, the lack of killer instinct cost them victory.

First things first though. Those who do not concede do not lose and Norwich lost their first six games. After the fifth, a 1-3 thumping by Watford, Farke took drastic action, changing both personnel and formation. One loanee, Ozan Kabak, replaced another, Brandon Williams, and a back four has become a back three with overlapping full backs.

“The change in formation has given us defensive solidity,” enthused full-back Max Aarons after Saturday’s draw. “With an extra person to cover me, I have licence to get forward and create chances.”

There were nascent signs of recovery in defeat at Everton. The trio thwarted Burnley before the international break and on Saturday each played to their strengths and they dovetailed effectively: Kabak’s cool elegance and pinpoint distribution; Grant Hanley’s strength and intelligence; Ben Gibson’s aerial power and game reading. Consequently, Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard troubled Tim Krul just once between them, when the goalkeeper tipped Trossard’s curler onto the bar.

With neither Aarons nor the rapidly blossoming Dimitris Giannoulis chained to their defensive duties – although Solly March’s late introduction pushed Aarons back late on - both surged forwards, stymieing Brighton’s attacking resolve and almost set up an unlikely victory against a team who had risen to fourth place on Sunday morning.

Norwich travel to Chelsea next week, but after that comes a run of five season-defining fixtures, all with potential for Norwich to take something. If they can score as well as stop goals, the greatest of escapes potentially awaits.

Report: Norwich rue missed chances as Daniel Farke's side held to draw

It was scrappy, but it was, in parts, beguiling too and while neither Norwich City nor Brighton & Hove Albion managed a goal between them, there were chances aplenty and succour for both teams. Norwich have neither lost nor conceded in successive Premier League games for the first time since March 2016 and their second-half performance hinted they may not necessarily be doomed after all. They are, at last, creating chances.

“We ticked many boxes today,” said Daniel Farke, the Norwich head coach. “A second point, a first home point, a second clean sheet. But I’m still frustrated. This was a small step, but it could – should - have been a big step.”

Brighton, meanwhile are six matches unbeaten and the relegation struggles of recent years already seem sepia-tinted. Tellingly, manager Graham Potter was dissatisfied.

“A tricky game. We didn’t play well enough to get three points. We struggled in the final third. Our decision making was not as good as it can be and we lacked width.”

Farke retained the same starting XI and substitutes who brought a point back from Burnley before the international break. Potter also made no changes to his starters, which meant Yves Bissouma, on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, was unused on the bench following his recovery from a knee injury.

Despite not winning Norwich coach Daniel Farke was still able to see the positives as his side drew at home to Brighton - SHAUN BROOKS
Despite not winning Norwich coach Daniel Farke was still able to see the positives as his side drew at home to Brighton - SHAUN BROOKS

With Brighton fielding five across the middle and both Norwich full backs keen to overlap, midfield was always going to be congested. The cultured, Stakhanovite Mathias Normann was interested in slowing things down, but this was a frenetic, staccato afternoon.

Briefly Brighton asserted themselves and soon Tim Krul was saving smartly, first from Adam Lallana following Pascal Gross’ corner and then touching Leandro Trossard’s dipper onto his bar after a beautifully cushioned Neal Maupay lay-off.

Norwich meanwhile showed intermittent traces of the team who passed themselves out of last year’s Championship. Twice, the domestically goal-shyTeemu Pukki bore down on Robert Sanchez, but such is the Finn’s dearth of confidence, twice he squared for impossible-to-reach team-mates.

They should have gone ahead in the last minute of the first half, when Normann played a crafty ball towards Josh Sargent. Robert Sanchez hurtled out of goal and completely miskicked before colliding with Lewis Dunk, allowing Sargent to face an empty goal on the edge of the penalty area. The American rolled the ball forwards, but so slowly that Shane Duffy had time to run back and clear. Aghast at his own sloppiness, Sargent held his head in his hands. So did most of the home support.

Three minutes into the second period, Sargent once again seemed set to score when Pukki set him free after Dunk’s clearance hit Lallana on the back. This time Sargent miscontrolled, allowing Dunk the opportunity to mop up the loose ball.

Josh Sargent's expression says it all as he reacts to missing an open goal - SHAUN BROOKS
Josh Sargent's expression says it all as he reacts to missing an open goal - SHAUN BROOKS

“He knows better than anyone else that he should have scored into an empty net for the first one and his touch was untidy for the second,” sighed Farke. “There is nobody more disappointed in our dressing room.”

Before the hour was up, Potter gave Tariq Lamptey his first Premier League action since tearing his hamstrung at Fulham in December, but for the first time this season, Norwich found themselves on top. Pukki missed again after being put through by a cute Max Aarons ball. Still, a third league goal of the season would not come, but when Pukki stormed through a back-pedalling rearguard yet again, Dan Burn saved the day and the point with a perfectly judged tackle. Indeed, they almost snatched all three late on when Maupay somehow poked Solly March’s cross over the bar from almost under it and justice was done for both teams.

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