Ipswich Town v Norwich City: A look inside the Canary camp
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Ahead of Sunday’s big game, Eastern Daily Press sports reporter DAVID FREEZER brings Town fans up to date with the many changes which have happened across the border at arch rivals Norwich City since last season.
It’s fair to say that Norwich will be unrecognisable to most Town fans when they pitch up at Portman Road.
Missing out on the play-offs despite being the joint highest scorers in the Championship last season has prompted an almighty revamp on and off the pitch for the Canaries.
Where did it all go wrong?
After play-off final promotion at Wembley in 2015, City had picked up 23 points and were six points clear of the Premier League relegation zone as they entered 2016. However, losing 13 of their remaining 18 games saw them slump to relegation under Alex Neil, finishing 19th and five points short of safety.
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The Scot who masterminded play-off semi-final success over Town two years ago looked set to guide his squad back to the top flight quickly though, winning manager of the month in September 2016 and with his team top of the Championship in mid-October.
Tossing away a 2-0 lead at half-time to draw 2-2 at Fulham kicked off a run of just two wins in the next 12 games, leaving fans infuriated to see Neil still in a job at Christmas time. The former Hamilton boss was eventually removed in March after City fell nine points adrift of the play-offs.
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What happened next?
Experienced coach Alan Irvine took on the job on an interim basis and did well, claiming 17 points from a possible 30 – but a root and branch reform had been launched by the club’s hierarchy.
A new management structure was implemented and sporting director Stuart Webber was poached from Huddersfield, having laid the foundations of the Yorkshire club’s promotion to the Premier League under German coach David Wagner.
Webber got stuck in straight away, getting rid of technical director Ricky Martin, scouting chiefs Tony Spearing and Lee Darnbrough and head of sport science Nick Davies as he set about refreshing the club’s staff.
The Welshman returned to Germany for his head coach, appointing Borussia Dortmund’s under-23s coach again, Daniel Farke.
Coaches Eddie Riemer and Christian Flüthmann, as well as head of sports science Chris Domogalla followed Farke to England, while Frankie McAvoy and Dean Kiely would eventually join Neil at Preston, as Irvine opted not to stay.
With off-field changes being made, fans were having to wait for the transfer window to open for the promised refresh of the playing squad to begin.
An extremely busy summer
Webber promised change and was true to his word – with 40 pieces of transfer business completed during the transfer window, hitting reset on an aging squad full of deadwood.
Among the 16 to leave were seven senior players released on free transfers, including goalkeeper John Ruddy, defenders Ryan Bennett and Sebastien Bassong, midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu and Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty.
Almost £20million was generated from the sales of midfielders Jonny Howson (£6m to Middlesbrough) and Graham Dorrans (£750,000 to Rangers), keeper Declan Rudd (£500,000 to Preston) and academy product Jacob Murphy (£12m to Newcastle) – who scored the equaliser against Town at Carrow Road last season.
While balancing the books and reducing the wage bill was key, around £8m was spent, with a raft of players from Germany arriving, as well as Barnsley forward Marley Watkins on a free transfer.
Bosnia & Herzegovina midfielder Mario Vrancic (£650,000 from Darmstadt), left-back Marco Stiepermann (£1m, VFL Bochum), defender Marcel Franke (£2.5m Greuter Furth) and former Werder Bremen midfielder Tom Trybull (free) were among the many arrivals.
Newcastle defender Grant Hanley (£3.5m) and Premier League loanees Angus Gunn (keeper, Manchester City) and Harrison Reed (midfielder, Southampton) were also added.
How is it going so far?
After a very shaky start as the revamped squad and staff got to know each other, things have really started to click for City.
Just four points from Farke’s first five games, including a 4-2 defeat at Aston Villa and a 4-0 thumping at Millwall, have given way to a new defensive resolve.
An unbeaten September, setting a club record of five consecutive league clean sheets, featuring away wins at Boro, Sheffield United and Reading earned manager and player of the month nods for Farke and young talent James Maddison – ensuring City cross the border in high spirits.
Scoring goals is now the issue, with much relying on the fitness of Portugal international striker and top scorer Nelson Oliveira.