Robin Sainty: The city is improving but still needs remedies

06:00 17 September 2022

After lying in bed with Covid for over a week, what kept me going was the thought of getting a negative test in time for Wednesday’s game, but when that didn’t happen, I was left at the tender mercy of Sky’s red button.

The fact that it chose that night to go completely haywire, with constant freezes and image quality dips to a level where I felt like I was watching an abstract painting come to life as smudges of shapeless color shifted across the screen, did nothing to lift my mood, although at least the result, if not the performance, did.

In a season filled with wall-to-wall facilities, you’d expect an 11-day gap between games to be like manna from heaven for players who would emerge refreshed and revitalised, but it wasn’t at all. the case.

The opening exchanges were littered with errors on both sides, but while the visitors dismissed the chances presented to them, City were ruthless when presented with their own opportunities.

Earlier in the season, there were fears that Teemu Pukki had lost a stage, but now I wonder if he has actually taken it to another level. He’s clearly back to his deadly best in front of goal, but his off-the-ball work adds so much to City’s build-up game, and while it’s difficult for Josh Sargent to be pushed down the right again, he no doubt the Finn remains Carrow Road’s best striker.

The credit should go to Bristol City, who were undoubtedly the best side City have faced so far, but Dean Smith will be unhappy with the two goals conceded, not least because they both put his side under pressure at times when they were largely in control. Game.

There is still a lack of balance down the side, with four right-footed defenders and no specialist midfielder, and this manifests in the difficulty with which City struggle to play through opposing presses and also in their vulnerability to fast counter.

These are circumstances beyond Smith’s control, and he will no doubt be greatly relieved when Isaac Hayden and Dimitris Giannoulis are fit again, but for now the issue is being effectively managed as evidenced by six successive wins, against a opposition more and more difficult.

However, Bristol’s second goal was awful and will give the manager nightmares.

I don’t know why Danel Sinani felt that with his right back out of action, a pass into his own penalty area, rather than taking the ball as far away from goal as possible, was the right option, but for Marcelino Nunez going blind once he received it showed the naïve side of the Chilean game.

Nunez has been a revelation but there are times when he maybe tries to do a bit too much and overplay in dangerous areas.

I suspect that’s something Hayden’s return will help as Nunez is probably more effective in a more forward position whereas right now he’s almost doing two jobs.

And so City find themselves one point off the top without ever stepping up a gear, and there are two ways to look at that.

One is that they are there by chance and will be discovered sooner or later and the other is that under Smith they are less predictable and more hardy and can find a way to win, even if forced into their plan of original game.

In the end, I would much rather see an ugly win than a pretty loss, although I actually thought Wednesday, while riddled with mistakes, was a very entertaining game of football.

Every win builds confidence and while no manager will ever be universally popular, Smith deserves plenty of credit for the turnaround from Hull.