Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City back on an even keel
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If football was predictable it would not stir the passions or suck us all in.
Those travelling Norwich City supporters, who experienced Aston Villa and Millwall, or Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton last season, continue to turn up to be part of nights like Middlesbrough or battling wins at inhospitable places like Sheffield United.
Reading ranks much lower on the intimidation factor, compared to Bramall Lane, but to venture cross-country in foul weather when you could sit in your armchair to a place City last triumphed in 2004 is still a badge of honour.
We have seen enough now in the past seven games to venture beyond tentative optimism. Norwich fans travel, and will travel in ever-growing numbers now you suspect, because they can see the emergence of a team who can resist, who is prepared to dig in, who has the streetwise edge to plunder and then hold on.
The contrast is cavernous from those miserable trips to Villa Park and the Den.
Do not waste time or energy searching for the magic bullet to explain this phenomenon. The equation is too complex and the factors innumerable. It is the return to fitness of Timm Klose, the recall of Alex Tettey, the blossoming of the unheralded Tom Trybull alongside him and the great leap forward of James Maddison. It is Cameron Jerome, manfully occupying defences with a voracious appetite for selfless work. It is the understated leadership of Ivo Pinto, who has worn the armband with the air of a man who feels he is ready to lead. It is Christoph Zimmermann and Angus Gunn, putting those uncertain early steps on the professional ladder behind them and developing into integral cogs in a defensive machine.
It is Daniel Farke, of course, pulling the strands together and forging a common unity and togetherness that is producing tangible results.
Horizons can be raised.The glass is rapidly filling. Add a fully-fit Nelson Oliveira or Alex Pritchard to this intoxicating mix and City’s quest to inject goals and attacking productivity to their miserly streak looks within reach.
You can be sure there will be setbacks and disappointments from this point. That is the nature of the Championship; an incessant, gruelling slog which stretches every sinew and routinely tests the mental capacity of both Farke and his players. The Carrow Road formula requires a tweak or two when sides erect barriers and invite City to try and unlock doors.
But what is beyond question is they have met every challenge since the last international break head on. There is a fearlessness and a desire that appears unquenchable.
The clean sheet record may have come to an abrupt end but far more impressive than such bald statistics was the visual evidence, once Jerome had headed City back in front at the Madejski.
The clinical manner Farke’s men shut down the match, denying Reading any real route back in for a second time, felt like the onset of a major growth spurt. Chris Gunter slammed in an angled shot that clipped the top of Gunn’s bar but it was a rare moment of alarm in the final quarter.
The Canaries’ game-management was all-encompassing. The collective shape, the organisation and clear sense every player is now on the same wavelength is a credit to Farke and his coaching brains.
He labelled it Norwich’s best, most complete away day yet under his tutelage. It is hard not to feel there will be better to come the other side of the international break. It will need to, given Portman Road is looming into view.
Farke appears to have honed among this group of players a thirst for self-improvement. Klose highlighted that gene when he spoke to the media in the build up to a seventh unbeaten game. The Swiss international was not happy to rest on his laurels and take the plaudits from playing a leading role in a landmark defensive club record. He wanted to raise the bar even higher.
Liam Moore had other ideas, escaping from Jerome at the far post to head Sone Aluko’s perfect free kick past Gunn from barely four yards.
But what unfolded thereafter in deepest Berkshire was another illustration the ‘boat’ - which Klose so poetically and liberally referenced on Friday to illustrate City’s collective mindset - can navigate choppy waters.
Now all that matters in the months ahead is its final destination.