Michael Bailey: Devoid of quality, Big Ben, no Norwich advantage and the yellow wall – Six things learned from City's Blackburn triumph
What a way for Norwich City to see in a Championship Christmas – Michael Bailey offers a seasonal super six things learned from victory at a sodden Blackburn Rovers.
1 – They may run out of room
So this first point was actually defined by Sunday – and it won’t take long to guess why.
Every team top of the Championship at Christmas since 2005 has been automatically promoted – which is a trend Leeds are now tasked with sustaining. Fair play; that comeback at Villa Park should fuel them for a while. But the essence of the point isn’t a matter of position – rather perception.
City’s latest last-gasp win was regarded widely outside Norfolk as a sign of fortune. Jammy Norwich and all that. In other quarters, Norwich leading the way on Saturday night was more evidence this season’s second tier is “devoid of quality”.
The general lack of public appreciation for how City are doing things is impressively ignorant given the resources now available.
Not that it matters. It doesn’t. But there’s no harm in being fired up by a few quotes pinned to the dressing room wall and proving some people wrong.
2 – Consider the ‘myth’ busted
Here we are then. The halfway point, 23 games in and sat in front of the fairest table we’re likely to see all season – apart from the one at the end.
Having questioned earlier in the season whether Norwich would have it in them to improve their record of no wins over last season’s bottom four, the response has been an emphatic yes.
Stoke are a remarkable ninth – far better than I expected of them. Of the 15 teams below them, City have beaten 12 and not lost to any of them. That’s a remarkable tally of 39 points – and clearly problem solved. City can do it against the division’s struggling sides.
It almost begs the opposite question – given City have therefore earned eight points from the top nine. One for another day. Instead, let’s bask in the original stat, and my favourite Championship theory that you can go up solely by beating the fodder.
It’s a solid start of the lovely lime kit too: two wins from two, six points. Tasty.
3 – Just add Big Ben to the list
Things change quickly in football. Barely a couple of weeks ago I was hoping to see Ben Godfrey get some sort of look as a holding midfielder, just so we could have some evidence as a useful comparison.
Instead we have seen the repeating pattern akin to Jamal Lewis, Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell – and it really is quite something.
I’m not sure I could state another manager that would have kept Godfrey in for Saturday’s Rovers test, with Grant Hanley pushing so hard for a return – especially at his former club.
Yet this is the Daniel Farke way. He keeps faith regardless of senior competition. If he trusts a young player, he trusts them implicitly; not just for effect. And his actions speak louder than his words. As do Godfrey’s: growing as a confident and composed centre-back and so far avoiding any mistakes.
Alex Tettey was impressed – and in his 200 City games, he’s seen a few centre-backs.
4 – Football has no advantage
After the first portion of Saturday’s game, Blackburn realised to compete they needed to kick. So they did – and generally the referee wasn’t too fussed. It made the game tortuous in places, enhancing all the bad elements that can afflict a Championship clash.
It also highlighted an area that football has a real issue with – and no apparent appetite to sort.
After one of several first-half hacks to the floor, Moritz Leitner was left in a heap – and Mr England duly waved play on. Norwich did. They broke forward but as often happens, were crowded out. From there, Rovers had their own chance to break with Leitner still down – and could have easily scored.
That is not an advantage. It is a useless and illogical officiating technique that needs changing.
It needs to be clear referees must bring play back if an advantage fails after a longer time period– but only once we finally get VAR. One obvious flaw at a time.
5 – Beware the riled Rovers
Rovers’ robust approach was understandable. They won’t be the first or last – although thankfully City withstood it, in turn showing it’s not quite that easy to stop them.
Ultimately it is the officials who need to penalise consistently – and without mitigation simply because it’s a tactical necessity.
On the flip side Harrison Reed – as seen in point one – was all the good energy and drive I expected from Rovers: nipping at feet, winning the ball and showing quality with it. It was arguably a better performance than most I saw from him in a yellow shirt last term.
But Rovers in general were a disappointment. They have come a long way in 12 months no doubt, as was repeatedly pointed out over the Ewood Park PA system at the weekend – but they also still have a fair way to travel.
The sight of an ineffective Bradley Dack leaving with an oversized entourage suggested that might not be as obvious to some as it perhaps should be.
6 – The yellow wall’s time has arrived
Boxing Day, Nottingham Forest. Saturday, Frank Lampard’s Derby. Two sides with fans openly questioning why and how Norwich are in the top two; expecting City to fall and make way for those more deserving (read expensive).
Emi Buendia and Moritz Leitner may not make either game, having been kicked off the Ewood Park pitch. Both visitors to Carrow Road may fancy taking a leaf out of Rovers’ 1970s playbook.
In their place, possibly a quartet of genuine talents with so few senior games under their belts – but a huge composure and willingness to do Norwich proud; a sentiment echoed by a squad that gets it, in a style that makes it happen.
Take your scarves and hold them high for On the ball City. Sing your hearts out. Show both clubs why this isn’t stuff they can buy, but chemistry we’ve created.
Opportunities like this don’t come often. This Christmas week is the chance to one.
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