Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City's spirited 1-0 Championship win against Middlesbrough
Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his Middlesbrough verdict after the Canaries' superb 1-0 Championship win
1. Ahoy there. Is that the Premier League on the horizon?
Fitting given Boro had rebranded their stadium after Captain James Cook for this game. The renowned explorer, born nearby, was the first European to chart the coasts of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Norwich are heading to the top flight at a rate of knots. They made it seven league wins on the spin with another demonstration of clinical intent and defensive resolve.
The last two occasions a Norwich side managed that feat they were went on to lift the title. This victory, coupled with a defeat for Sheffield United, pushed Daniel Farke’s squad seven points clear of third place with seven games to go. A double header at Carrow Road against QPR and Reading could edge them to the precipice.
Middlesbrough were committed, energetic and desperate to get their own promotion push back on track. But it was the Canaries who prevailed. Standard.
2. Oh Onel
A seventh league goal of the season could not have been better timed for Hernandez.
Cutting inside it looked like the wrong option, as he was faced with a forest of red shirts, but the Cuban fashioned a sweet low right footed effort that found a path through a crowd scene to curl just inside Darren Randolph’s near post.
The exuberance of his celebrations may have earned him a booking, as he raced towards the away end. But Hernandez will feel that was worth it.
There is so much potential in his game. The pace, the thrust, the directness of his approach which put defenders on the back foot.
There is more to come in terms of his productivity. As there is for so many in this evolving squad. That is a tantalising prospect.
Farke said in pre-season of his flying winger if he had a consistent end product he would play for Manchester City. It looks increasingly like he will get his chance on the same stage next season.
3. Trebles for show. Doubles for dough
Hernandez may rightly be hailed for his match-winning contribution. But not for the first time on this winning surge since that distant loss to Preston, victory was sealed by a number of absolutely vital defensive blocks.
Christoph Zimmermann hooked away Stewart Downing’s goalbound header in the second half as Boro rumbled forward.
There was an even more telling contribution from Tom Trybull at his far post, deep inside his own six yard box, to thwart Boro’s Jordan Hugill at the far post.
Tim Krul raced to pat the grounded midfielder on the back. It was the type of block that spoke volumes about the togetherness, the team spirit and the character that is underpinning this title charge.
4. Pukki power cut?
A sixth game for club and country without troubling the scorers marks a veritable drought for the prolific Finnish striker.
There were two excellent chances in the first half on Teesside that perhaps when a striker at the peak of his powers would have nestled inside the net.
On both occasions, Republic of Ireland international Randolph thwarted him with two very good stops. There was another one-on-one in the second half when he dragged a shot wide.
Farke was asked for his thoughts on this sub-plot prior to the game and rightly referred the questioner to the assists Pukki had served up recently at Rotherham and for his country.
A striker with 24 goals to his name who heads the Championship goal charts this late in the campaign has done his talking on the pitch. If this does constitute a fallow period, then his Norwich team mates need to step up to the plate.
As Farke himself said on Friday, in response to Pukki’s nomination for Championship player-of-the-season, such is the forward’s selfless nature if Norwich go up without another goal from their main man there will be no-one happier.
5. Nearly Ben. Nearly
Ben Marshall looked to have finally made the sort of impact for Norwich City that convinced the Canaries to entice him to Carrow Road last summer. Alas, it was in the colours of Millwall, after opting for a loan stint in search of the regular football which had remained frustratingly elusive under Farke.
Nevertheless all contributions gratefully accepted, and when Marshall rifled Millwall ahead at promotion rivals Leeds earlier in the day it could have earned him plenty of headlines back in Norfolk.
It was not to be. Marcelo Bielsa’s squad hit back to earn a vital three points.
But just across Yorkshire, Sheffield United’s seven match winning league run at Bramall Lane careered to a halt against Bristol City.
As much as it remains in the hands, and feet, of Farke’s boys, it was arguably as good an outcome elsewhere as Norwich could realistically have expected from two home games for their main promotion foes. Yet again, they did what they had to do. What happens in Yorkshire will increasingly no longer matter.