Paddy's Pointers: Six to set the scene for Norwich City's Wigan Championship duel
The heat is on for Norwich City but what an occasion in store at Wigan as Operation: Premier League ramps up on Sunday. Paddy Davitt picks out some key signposts.
1. Positive vibes from City chief
Daniel Farke’s press call the day after the night before against Reading could have turned into a post-mortem.
The raw sting was still painfully fresh at the manner a remarkable Norwich victory, from such adverse conditions, had disappeared with one swipe of Andy Rinomhota’s boot in the 97th minute at Carrow Road.
Farke wisely opted not to try and soothe with warm words but let his players navigate their own way through the inevitable disappointment immediately after the game. But it was important he projected a positive air when he spoke to the media the following day.
So much of this now is about perception and the prevailing mood music.
Much of that tone comes from the leader. Farke accentuated the positive and looked forward to a chance to embark on another winning run at Wigan.
Do that, and what happened deep in stoppage time at Carrow Road will swiftly be forgotten.
2. Shout loud and proud, you Norwich fans
One City Strong is more than a catchy slogan.
In any circumstances, taking 5,300 supporters to Wigan from Norfolk would be an outstanding achievement. Factor in the day and the kick-off time, to suit live television coverage, and it is nothing short of extraordinary.
The sights and the sounds will be worth the effort. But add in the context of a Championship promotion race boiling to a climax and this could go down as one of those ‘I was there’ moments recounted in years to come.
City’s fans have delivered and now Farke’s players must respond. They will surely be lifted by the vast numbers of green and yellow in the north-west.
That tight bond, that unity Farke continually talks about was evident again when Christoph Zimmermann appeared to have headed a memorable Reading winner. The celebrations on the terraces were matched in and around the home dug out. An encore would be lovely.
3. Enough of this Emi statistic
The avalanche of numbers and statistical quirks thrown up by this stirring season of Championship football from Norwich City at times can prove quite overwhelming.
There is only one that really counts as we approach the final shakedown; namely the Canaries’ league position.
But given it remains a work in progress, and for the next two games at least must happen without the suspended Emi Buendia, the mere fact all 25 league wins were achieved with the help of the magic midfielder in the side is inducing a nauseous sensation among a few Norwich fans.
There is no doubt Buendia has emerged as a key creative force. Especially in some tight, tense affairs down the stretch. But Farke insisted prior to the Reading draw no one is indispensable in his Norwich squad.
A win at Wigan - without Buendia - considering what is now at stake would underline his point better than any data trends.
4. Slow, slow, quick, quick, go
Given the huge slabs of possession Norwich have enjoyed in the last two home games against QPR and Reading, it would be no great surprise if they have more of the same at Wigan.
Paul Cook and his Latics’ coaching staff will have studied how the Royals suffocated and frustrated City for long spells at Carrow Road, and then looked to profit with pace and thrust on the counter.
Wigan may hover perilously above the relegation zone, going into this game, but they have lost the same amount of home matches as the leaders. In the process, they have only conceded 19 goals in those 20 home league games.
That appears to suggest Norwich will again face a well-disciplined, well-structured blockade.
Possession with a purpose is the mantra. Lateral passing at a sluggish tempo will merely offer Wigan the same sort of encouragement as Reading before those late fireworks on Wednesday night.
5. Paying the penalty is just not on
Quiz question: Name the only league game this season where Norwich City did not fluff their lines from the penalty spot?
It was the reverse fixture at Carrow Road, settled by Mario Vrancic’s nerveless strike from 12 yards in the 86th minute.
The Bosnian remains the only Norwich player to score one this season. He did err at Sheffield Wednesday, along with four other colleagues at various stages of a memorable campaign. Never mind spot kick woe this is bordering on a jinx or even a curse. It would hardly come as a huge surprise if Norwich were awarded a penalty at Wigan.
Especially if the game flows towards the Latics’ goal in the same one-way fashion it did against Reading.
Then the spotlight may turn to Teemu Pukki or Kenny McLean or even Vrancic himself, should he be on the park. This time around it needs to be converted. Given Wigan’s miserly defensive record at home it might be crucial.
6. Tunnel vision now, boys
One of the most impressive facets of Norwich City’s assault on the Premier League has been the manner they have seemingly detached themselves from the ebb and flow of fate or fortune swirling around Sheffield United and Leeds United.
The uneven nature of the fixture list, due in the main to those demands from the satellite television broadcaster, has altered the dynamic down the stretch.
Norwich kicked off after both their main promotion rivals either side of the recent international break.
Last weekend they got their blow in first. But the tables are turned this weekend. Norwich could be only three points clear when they kick off at Wigan, if Leeds get the better of Sheffield Wednesday. Given two points slipped from their grasp on Wednesday night the margin for error may have shortened dramatically.
But City have so far proved resistant to fixture fluctuations. They need more of the same.