Chris Goreham: Elland Road victory showed there's nothing for Norwich City to fear in the Championship
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 February 2019
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'Let's see where we are after the Leeds game.'
That’s been the Norwich City mantra that has helped keep my feet firmly on the ground over the past couple of months.
Few supporters could have predicted that the answer to that Canary conundrum would end up being ‘top of the Championship’.
The thrilling late Carrow Road winners of the autumn were slightly tempered by the knowledge of what was on the horizon.
A punishing run of fixtures that would take Norwich City from 2018 and into 2019 that included trips to West Brom, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United as well as the promise of home tussles with promotion hopefuls like Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.
It felt like a series of matches that would reveal all about how seriously we should take what started out as an unlikely promotion challenge.
The temptation as a commentator and supporter was to talk about those games in terms of how much the pressure would build on Daniel Farke’s squad. If what happened at Elland Road on Saturday taught us anything it was that this particular Norwich City squad has chosen to embrace the opportunity they have created for themselves rather than worry about what might go wrong. It’s an approach that must be admired.
Leeds United away was supposed to be the biggest test the Championship can provide. Throw-in the sell-out crowd, the number of inexperienced players in the Norwich City squad and the spotlight on the top of the Championship that has got brighter in recent weeks after the ‘Spygate’ shenanigans surrounding Marcelo Bielsa and it felt like an occasion far beyond anything that had happened in City’s 29 previous Championship matches this season.
A fan’s default setting is to mull over all of the bad things that could happen.
A pessimist is never disappointed after all. Those concerns were completely misplaced as Norwich City roared out of the blocks at Elland Road with the sort of composed, eager and self-assured performance that sparked memories of how Alex Neil’s side had handled the Wembley play-off final against Middlesbrough four seasons ago.
An early goal always helps to steady the big match nerves and it was during our post-match interview with Mario Vrancic, whose brace had clinched the win, that it struck me how much he was emphasising the fact that the Norwich City players had been looking forward to the game and how much they enjoyed having the opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the division.
It’s this steely determination to appreciate the task at hand that may turn out to be City’s trump card during the run-in.
We know they can play good football and score plenty of goals and we also know they are resilient. The fact they have got to February with just one away league defeat all season is an achievement they haven’t had enough credit for. That sole loss, back in August, came courtesy of a last minute winner from Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
It’s a run made all the more remarkable when you consider that Middlesbrough and Aston Villa are the only two teams in the top 14 of the Championship they have yet to visit.
Many of the other teams in the promotion race were expected to be there. Leeds have been long-time favourites to win the division, West Brom are trying to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, Derby, Middlesbrough and Sheffield United are among the others who looked set to challenge after showing signs of promise last year. There is genuine pressure on those clubs to go up.
Norwich City have been the surprise package.
There’s no telling how the mentality might change if they get within touching distance of actually pulling this off but that win at Elland Road was a great advert for enjoying and embracing the challenges that Championship football throws up rather than worrying about it all the time.