Paddy Davitt: Beauty in a beastly Championship duel for Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 14:07 17 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:11 18 March 2019
Beauty may lie in the eye of the beholder but this was a Norwich City Championship win to sit on the same pedestal as the Canaries' sexiest football this season.
For the simple reason, Daniel Farke’s squad won a game so far out of their comfort zone you had to locate it in the next post code.
This was a brutal, attritional contest of brawn, buffeted by blustery conditions, that ratcheted up the degree of difficulty and the stress level.
Then add in the context of a seismic shift at the top of the Championship, just an hour or so before kick off, when Sheffield United underlined they are not about to go quietly in the race for automatic promotion with a 1-0 away win at Leeds.
Norwich had to respond. Not so much to send a signal to either of their closest title challengers, but to reassure those of a nervous disposition closer to home who did not want this to be packaged as a pivotal, momentum-shifting weekend of league combat for all the wrong reasons.
Instead, they stood up to the challenges in front of them and produced a magnificently resolute victory.
Against a Rotherham United side scrapping for survival under Paul Warne who had not lost on home soil since Leeds’ January visit.
Warne himself rejects the label attached to his battlers they are light on quality and heavy on physical effort.
But the opening minutes of this raw-boned affair saw an aerial battery unleashed in front of Tim Krul’s goal, with throw ins, corners, long diagonal passes into the channels and fighting for second balls holding sway.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in that approach. Warne has inferior resources at his disposal, and admitted as much in his post-match media briefing, when he acknowledged a ‘formidable’ opponent in his midst.
That is why, not for the first time in this six-match winning league run for Farke’s men, there was a thrilling purity to a Norwich goal the like of which Rotherham or Millwall value so highly.
Ben Godfrey arrived with a perfectly-timed far post run to clamber above the Millers’ main man, Semi Ajayi, and crash home Kenny McLean’s corner in front of those delirious away fans.
For Godfrey, read Christoph Zimmermann at Millwall. For McLean, read Emi Buendia.
Such a goal highlights the staggering scale of development and re-invention Farke has unleashed.
Norwich, seemingly, are equipped to go anywhere against any opponent in the Championship and play any game you want.
Sit off, and you allow City’s most creative talents time and space to knit pretty patterns that invariably end with a strike from Teemu Pukki or Marco Stiepermann. Opt to get in their faces, press, harass and probe for set piece vulnerability and you can end up getting punished in kind.
Or try the same tactic in the Norwich penalty area and you have to find a way past Zimmermann and Godfrey.
Or in the final seconds, Krul, who took matters into his own hands literally with a pressure-relieving punch to repel the final home push.
Wolves may have cut a swathe through this division last season but they had plenty of players, notably John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett, who knew what the Championship was about and could deal with the less refined elements in the second tier.
To pitch up at Rotherham, with the wind howling, and a fierce determination from the hosts to make life as uncomfortable as possible, was a challenge to the character and fighting spirit of the visitors.
Those with more modest ambitions, like Ipswich Town under Paul Lambert, have to level the playing field because they are simply not good enough to take this Norwich collective on in a game of technical quality and attacking verve.
Yet City proved again, in masterful fashion, to attempt to do is not to expose a weak spot or a vulnerable flank.
Some irate Rotherham fans sought solace in perceived injustice.
There were plenty of catcalls directed at visiting players for what they felt was a propensity to go to ground too easily. But the final word, as so often to this advanced stage of the season, was left to Norwich.
Those full-time celebrations may have been tinged with relief for surviving the onslaught but also, as Farke alluded to, a tremendous pride at another performance from a group of players who can see the Premier League prize, and will do what it takes to grasp it.