Behind Enemy Lines: Norwich City

MILLWALL head into this fixture after consecutive losses to Preston and Hull.

The Lions made basic errors for goals in those games after such an astute performance against Derby at Pride Park to claim only their second away win of the season.

Norwich were victors in the reverse fixture in November as they scored twice in injury-time to win 4-3 in a topsy-turvy game.

Lucas Ball spoke to Jon Punt this week.

Twitter: @puntino

Why do you support Norwich?

Being Norwich born and bred, I don’t think there was ever really an alternative option. My uncle took me to Carrow Road in 1986, and given my dad’s side of the family are all Canaries fans it was pretty inevitable I’d end up following Norwich.

It certainly helped that when I started going we’d recently won the Milk Cup, had just been promoted to the top flight and we were about to embark on a stellar few seasons which would see us come fourth and third in the top flight, along with bloodying a few of the European giants’ noses in the UEFA Cup.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s probably as good as it’s ever going to get for us.

What’s been your favourite season following the Canaries?

Up until this season, where the football has been an absolute joy to watch, it was probably 1988-89.

This was a time when City defied expectations and had a very likeable bunch of upstarts, the best of whom was Robert Fleck. In fact, my favourite match of that campaign was at The Den, where you had quite the frontline too in Tony Cascarino and Teddy Sheringham.

This season might top the lot, though, it’s the most cohesive unit I’ve ever seen play in yellow and green.

And the worst?

Has to be 2008-09, when we were relegated to the third tier for the first time in decades.

Glenn Roeder was at the helm and it all got a bit ugly after he’d tried to borrow his way out of jail with about 362 loanees.

After he got the sack it was left to club legend Bryan Gunn to try and steady the ship and what ensued tarnished his reputation at the club for a while, which should never have happened.

Daniel Farke wasn’t the most popular man last season but he can do no wrong at the moment, surely?

That’s a tricky one. He always retained popularity with a hardcore of the fanbase because he’s just so likeable.

However, after an indifferent start to this season, things had started to turn in the stands.

When you put it all into perspective, though, he’s had his best players sold from under him (James Maddison, Jacob Murphy, Alex Pritchard, Jonny Howson and Josh Murphy, to name a few), then been given only a limited budget with which to replace them. The fact that he’s crafted this side into the excellent team he has is nothing short of a miracle after the club were left shopping in QD rather than House of Fraser.

But beyond all that, it’s the style of play. The football is genuinely beautiful when it’s in full flow. All one- and two-touch passing moves, retaining possession until the gap opens up, at which point some razor-sharp accuracy and speed of thought can unlock the door.

That’s all credit to him, even though he likes to shine the light on his playing staff rather than take the plaudits.

What are your expectations for the rest of this season?

When you sit top of the league after 34 games it’s difficult to then not subsequently expect top two is realistic.

And it is. Our run-in on paper is probably the ‘easiest’ of any of the top six – lots of mid-table sides to play with not much to play for.

Football often doesn’t work out like that, though, and at the start of the season I’d have been ridiculously happy with a top-six berth. It’s amazing how much your expectations shift after a few games of football.

What has been behind this season’s unexpected promotion push?

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the beautiful football – many sides just can’t live with us at times.

Then there’s the form of Teemu Pukki, 23 goals and counting with 12 to play is a great return and it’s arguably what we missed most last year. We were creating the chances but not snaffling them up.

Which of Farke’s players will the Lions need to pay most attention to?

Take your pick. Teemu Pukki can score out of nowhere, Onel Hernandez’s pace has many defenders on the back foot and Marco Stiepermann is unorthodox but always dangerous.

The jewel in the crown is probably Emi Buendia, though, a potential successor to Wes Hoolahan, and one I’d fear losing if we didn’t see the job through.

The attacking midfield triumvirate are all match-winners on their day, so if they click it’ll be difficult for your lot.

Likewise, which Millwall players are you worried about facing?

Jake Cooper will obviously be a threat from set-pieces given his record this season and I quite like Lee Gregory, though he’s on a barren run at the moment.

What are your thoughts on Neil Harris?

He seems an honest guy who is doing the best he can with the cards he’s been dealt.

I’m always wary of a club legend coming back to manage their former side but he arguably has you punching marginally above your weight and the job he did last season was amazing.

If you could sign one of his players, who would it be and why?

As much as I like Lee Gregory, I’m not sure he’d suit our style of play so I’d probably have to say Jake Cooper given the strength he has in both boxes.

What’s your predicted Canaries starting XI and formation?

I’d be shocked if we make any changes given our form, so expect a 4-2-3-1:

Tim Krul; Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmermann, Ben Godfrey, Jamal Lewis; Tom Trybull, Kenny McLean; Hernandez, Buendia, Stiepermann; Pukki.

Will you be at the game on Saturday afternoon?

Unfortunately not – a young family means away days are a rare luxury, plus I’m still re-living the nightmare of a 4-0 thrashing at the Den in 2000, with a Steve Claridge inspired Lions side making us look distinctly average.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

If we turn up (and I think we will) then I can see us taking all three points but conceding along the way. 3-1 to Norwich, but for long periods it may be closer than many people think.

Graphic: @ShedCreative