Paddy Davitt verdict: Dig deeper for the gold powering Norwich City’s promotion surge
PUBLISHED: 13:36 03 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 03 March 2019
Light years might well have been Daniel Farke’s first post-match answer after Norwich City passed another epic test of their Championship promotion credentials at Millwall.
Farke was asked how much sweeter it felt than on his last visit to The Den.
As the German pointed out, that was 18 months ago and only Mario Vrancic and Alex Tettey remain from a squad who were chewed up and spat out in only Farke’s fifth league match in charge. What a transformation.
Neil Harris, Steve Morison and the rest of the Lions were no less physically imposing, no less committed to a ferocious brand of pressing football and aerial bombardment. But with the greatest of respect to those under Farke’s command the last time he brought a side to The Den, this version will not be bullied or intimidated into submission.
We have seen them on the ropes many times yet this felt like raw-boned combat.
Harris does not possess the cultured quality Farke and Stuart Webber have moulded.
The Millwall legend has honest endeavour and hard graft, befitting a club and a support base who appear to revel in their uncompromising reputation.
The barrage at the start and then following Shaun Williams’ first half equaliser was prolonged and almost surgical, in the manner balls rained into the box looking for Morison or Lee Gregory.
One doubts Emi Buendia was subjected to such a full frontal assault on his senses as he picked his way through the Spanish second division. But like the rest brought to the club in recent times he has had to adapt to survive.
Buendia may not be required to throw himself into the boots and the heads in quite the same way as Christoph Zimmermann or Ben Godfrey. Yet there is an inherent bravery and a beauty to a technically gifted, diminutive midfielder who keeps coming back for more.
Who tries to bring the ball out of the sky and caress it towards another team mate on the same wavelength.
There was a costly misplaced pass that drew a word of caution from his head coach at the interval, after it led to the phase of play that brought Millwall a leveller just when it looked Norwich had weathered the storm.
Marco Stiepermann had quelled much of the fire and the appetite to turn the Championship table on its head before Buendia’s flick was intercepted to spark a home counter that led to Williams’ close range finish.
You can surmise Farke’s chat perhaps centred not around Buendia’s ambition or an urge to curb his attacking instincts but to play in the right areas, to minimise the risk, to give an inferior opponent no hint of extra encouragement.
Once Millwall’s surge of extra belief subsided without further reward around the hour mark,
Buendia orchestrated the defining acts. A whipped corner crashed home by Zimmermann underlined it was not simply the Lions who had the exclusive rights on set piece sorcery.
Then a threaded ball superbly controlled by Teemu Pukki took him away from two defenders before unleashing a rising finish beyond Jordan Archer.
As Harris graciously conceded at full-time - before Farke was prompted to take a trip down memory line - it was a goal only the very best in the Championship can produce. But be in no doubt this hard-fought win was rooted in City’s obduracy and will to resist.
Twice it required Godfrey and later Zimmermann to produce goalline blocks as the scrap for aearil supremacy hung in the balance.
Tim Krul’s near post double save five minutes from normal time averted a frenzied final push from the hosts in those closing minutes.
That intervention earned a thumping pat on the back from captain Zimmermann.
In one simple act you saw why this is such a collective effort. Why fans are flocking for tickets home and away to be part of what feels a special campaign in the making.
You saw the team spirit and the willingness to put bodies on the line for the mate next to you.
In Buendia’s case, no doubt to rectify the lapse that allowed Millwall back in. Rewind a week and Kenny McLean’s thumping match-winner after earlier failing to halt Callum O’Dowda.
Norwich possessed skill and technical ability when Farke pitched up at The Den so early in his tenure.
Now they also have deeper reserves of character and resolve. You need the complete package to earn promotion.
With the wind in their sails and that tunnel vision Farke demands to avoid any distractions, it could be a while before he returns to The Den.