JON PUNT FROM ALONG COME NORWICH TALKS TO POMPEYNEWSNOW AHEAD OF SATURDAY’S FA CUP TIE AGAINST NORWICH
Hugh: Can you tell Pompey fans a little about how you cover Norwich?
Jon: Our site, Along Come Norwich, is into its third season now and we’ve evolved a fair bit. We started out writing columns and match reviews, but have since strayed into podcasting (in a very amateur way) and trying to mobilise supporters to give the team better vocal backing. We’ve done this in conjunction with supporters group Barclay End Norwich, trying to inject a bit more colour into the stands too.
Hugh: How long have you been supporting Norwich and what got you into the Canaries?
Jon: My first match was at the tender age of eight, some 32 years ago. I was pretty much hooked instantly, so kudos to my Uncle Barrie for introducing me to the Canaries. To be fair it was a 4-3 victory, against your neighbours Southampton, so it wasn’t a bad way to begin.
Hugh: It has been a strong start to the season for Norwich, who currently sit 2nd in the Championship. Does this match the fans expectations at the start of the season?
Jon: Had you asked me this question in August, I’d have said anything that represented progress (based on the fact we found ourselves 14th last term) would have been acceptable. Automatic promotion wasn’t even being talked about, I optimistically predicted 7th. That was more in hope than anything else, given that last season’s stand out performer James Maddison swanned off to Leicester for £20 million plus, shortly after Josh Murphy also went for an eight-figure fee.
The fact that Farke (and sporting director Stuart Webber) have moulded this squad into a cohesive unit, at the same time bringing a bit more attacking impetus and intelligence to our possession-based style, is ridiculous. No-one in Norfolk saw this coming. And that’s a bit of an issue now. None of us really know where we ‘should’ finish, but there’s nothing in this division I’ve seen that concerns me. Success was a top 6 spot, yet now we have far loftier ambitions.
Hugh: The Championship is arguably the most competitive league in the world. How has Daniel Farke been able to find so much success this season?
Jon: I think it helped that Farke had already had one season in the league, moulding his players to his preferred style. The additional squad churn meant this was very much his team, with players who could implement his philosophy. That’s been huge, and you can’t argue with the results. Last season the possession-based game could be stilted, without an end product. Now we’re among the top scorers in the league, which is mainly due to more incisive passing in the final third, and better movement.
Hugh: How has Daniel Farke set up tactically this season? Would you do anything different?
Jon: I don’t think you can question someone tactically who has his team punching way above their weight. Farke has opted primarily for a 4-2-3-1 this season, although only one of the defensive midfielders is usually a stopper, the other undertaking the quarterback role.
Width is provided by full backs who push on, the attacking midfield trio will usually be quite narrow, trying to play quick intricate passes to unlock the door.
Hugh: It is going to be a massive challenge against Norwich, whoever you play. If you had to identify one weakness in your team Pompey can exploit, what would it be?
Jon: To be honest, I think you’ll be well in this game, it’s very likely we’ll be making 8 or 9 changes and some of these players won’t have seen any football for a while. On recent evidence, set pieces are where we’ve been undone, with alarming regularity. Wholesale changes to personnel usually don’t fix that kind of issue, so just be good at corners and you’ll have some joy.
Hugh: Norwich has some injury concerns as well as a very busy schedule. Do you expect Daniel Farke to play a completely different side to the one that drew 1-1 with Brentwood?
Jon: In a word, yes. If Farke could change all eleven players who started at Brentford I think he would, but with injuries, that’s not going to be feasible. However, there will be at least 9 changes. I’d imagine Ben Godfrey and AN Other will be the only survivors from Griffin Park.
Hugh: What players should Pompey fans be worried about?
Jon: That’s tricky to predict, given the injury list. Teemu Pukki probably won’t make the 18, he needs a rest. Onel Hernandez may make an appearance from the bench, the Cuban’s pace and trickery have been a real game changer at times this season. Other than that, it’s possible we might see the return of Kenny McLean from a long injury lay off. There are high hopes for him since his summer switch from Aberdeen.
Hugh: Lastly, what is your match prediction?
Jon: I genuinely think if you play a first choice eleven you have an excellent chance to progress, our cup record is abysmal. 1-2, and I’m almost ashamed to predict that.
Hugh Bunce: @puckdropuk
Jon Punt: @puntino
Images: Andrew Hurdle @Hurdle88