Paddy Davitt verdict: Boring, boring Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 18:27 23 September 2018 | UPDATED: 07:24 24 September 2018
Boring, boring Norwich City. Another win, another Teemu Pukki goal, another clean sheet.
Plus another bizarre post-match take down from a rival manager. Steve McClaren’s dissection of QPR’s 1-0 defeat to the Canaries was right up there with the best barbs from Chris Wilder.
If you really want to puncture the rising sense of optimism you could chivvy Daniel Farke’s squad for failing to embellish their superiority by a bigger margin of victory.
The overwhelming difference in possession was not reflected in the scoreline.
That induced a sense of unease in the final, desperate throes at Loftus Road.
Matt Smith lumbered on to add his considerable aerial presence to the hosts’ route one approach, but there was no repeat of last season’s sour script.
City were magnificently resolute in front of Tim Krul. McClaren was aggrieved Timm Klose’s shove on Massimo Luongo went unpunished inside the Norwich penalty area. On another day, with another official, he may have got his wish.
But away from the cameras, not even McClaren would contest his side were second best.
The Canaries pitched up in west London to face a Championship opponent on a longer unbeaten run than them. But that was the only thing these two shared in common thereafter. It was the men in green who oozed confidence, belief and authority.
Groundwork laid against Middlesbrough and bedded in at Reading solidified in the wet and wintry weather at QPR.
The sense of purpose, the cohesion and control - funnelled through Moritz Leitner’s pervasive presence - were in marked contrast to the hosts’ limited strategy.
All that was lacking in a dominant first period was the end product.
Jamal Lewis raided with impunity but twice betrayed a lack of composure on his final pass. But as with the rest of City’s youth brigade, the positives vastly outweigh the areas for incremental improvement.
Todd Cantwell earned a stinging rebuke from Krul for a naïve attempt to chip his way up the field at a crucial phase in the proceedings. But the Dereham prospect was also a key part of the build up to Pukki’s chested winner; or as McClaren unwisely labelled it, ‘not a proper goal’.
With insight as perceptive as that the only mystery is how Rangers had picked up 10 points from their previous four league outings.
Perhaps the gulf between the two rivals actually downplayed how well Norwich performed. There is a feeling of liberation and freedom stamped through the past few performances. Farke’s task is to harness those traits over a consistent portion of the season.
The head coach spoke at length in the build up about avoiding a repeat of the sharp decline that followed a 10-match unbeaten streak around this time 12 months ago. His considered answers centred on the lessons learned from those who were sampling the Championship for the first time and the culture shock of encountering a gruelling schedule.
At present you could contend the Canaries are no less reliant on one star performer. Pukki has assumed the mantle passed from James Maddison, but this squad has greater depth.
You can pay Christoph Zimmermann no higher praise than to say Grant Hanley has not been missed. Yet.
Marco Stiepermann and Leitner continue to flourish in their re-deployments, although Farke can also turn to Tom Trybull or Mario Vrancic.
Quite apart from Onel Hernandez, Ben Marshall and Kenny McLean still on the sidelines. Then there is Jordan Rhodes, a man with strong Ipswich connections who, in his goalscoring ability and public pronouncements, appears to have rapidly been taken to the hearts of the Canaries’ faithful.
Farke was quick to hail Rhodes’ attitude to his recent demotion when the focus inevitably centred on Pukki’s latest strike at QPR. Cynics would suggest sugar-coated soundbites are easier to dispense when a team is on the up.
Perhaps the real test will come when Pukki hits a dry spell. For now there is a sense of unity and purpose that is refreshing and uplifting.
The scenes of celebration at the final whistle, in front of the away support, underline the togetherness.
That is what three wins on the spin can achieve. Given the margin of Leeds’ superiority at Carrow Road it beggars belief Norwich now lie only four points adrift of the leaders.
That is how far this group of players and their head coach have travelled since. How far and how high they go from here is a tantalising prospect.