David Freezer: It certainly has been an 'amazing' season for Norwich City - but the best is yet to come
PUBLISHED: 08:54 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:02 30 March 2019
"Can you believe how amazing this season has been, Dave?", asked a friend as the international break allowed me a rare Friday night down the pub last weekend.
Usually I don’t mind international breaks, I enjoy watching England matches and how could you not with the vibrancy and huge potential of the players currently available to Gareth Southgate?
However, while this fortnight has been a good chance to draw breath in the middle of a hectic Championship campaign, I’ve been looking forward to this evening’s game at the Riverside ever since we got back from Rotherham.
The spirit and style of the current Norwich City squad is intoxicating, not only an underdog story of beating the odds and defying wealthier opponents, but doing it with a swagger and flair that offers tantalising possibilities for the Premier League.
It’s led us to a final five weeks of the season in which we are guaranteed drama, one way or another, with the fireworks in place, ready to be lit.
You may well have seen our story about former Canaries striker Simeon Jackson missing a horrendous penalty for St Mirren during the week, with a cheeky attempted chip at 0-0, and that of course prompted a quick Youtube search of his dramatic moments of 2011.
That injury-time winner against Derby which sparked such memorable scenes, with Chris Goreham screaming “it’s utter chaos at Carrow Road” and Neil Adams chipping in with “the place is going bananas!” – iconic words in these parts.
Warm up those vocal chords, Chris...
Victory at Boro tonight would pretty much mathematically guarantee a play-off place for Daniel Farke’s team. We know that backstop is already in place but can be absolutely certain City do not want to use it – unlike the relegation battlers of Westminster FC, but let’s not go there.
And the Canaries head into today’s undoubtedly difficult fixture with the comfort of knowing that even a defeat would not cost them top spot in the Championship promotion race, regardless of how Sheffield United and Leeds get on in their 3pm kick-offs.
That could well help alleviate a bit of pressure, knowing that the hosts will be desperate to get back on track after three consecutive defeats. They could even be outside the top six by the time the game starts in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
Whether the watching TV audience will see an entertaining game is quite another thing though, this is after all a Tony Pulis team that stand between City and at least maintaining the four-point cushion at the summit.
As my mate had said in the pub, Norwich have had an “amazing” season.
They’re the division’s top scorers with 77 goals, have the league’s lethal threat in Teemu Pukki, have scored more decisive late goals than anyone else and boast top young talents like Emi Buendia and Jamal Lewis.
Contrast that with Boro, where Pulis-ball continues to keep things tight at the back, with the division’s meanest defensive record of just 31 conceded in 37 games.
That’s the foundation of a promotion season, no doubt. The only problem is that such a negative approach has resulted in just 40 goals, almost half of that which Norwich have managed and the fourth worst return in the division.
Do you think Boro fans have been willing the international break to come to a close so that they can get back to seeing their players stick to a rigid plan and grind out a result?
Have good Championship players like Jonny Howson, Britt Assombalonga and George Saville been desperately looking forward to having their reins fitted again for another solid approach? I highly doubt it.
Norwich fans, on the other hand, can look forward to watching a team which doesn’t accept defeat, that knows it can bounce back from conceding goals, with players with such confidence in their technical ability who are thriving under the adventurous approach of their head coach.
Even if Boro do manage to squeeze the life out of them today, City can look forward to approaching home games against QPR and Reading with automatic promotion the sole focus, to taking an incredible 5,000 supporters to Wigan on a Sunday lunchtime, to knowing their team are good enough to beat anyone at this level when they hit their stride.
Whatever happens during this final eight matches, Farke and Stuart Webber have provided a team to be proud of and a foundation for future success, so let’s just enjoy the ride.
• MAXIMUM VOTES
It’s great to see Max Aarons nominated for Young Player of the Season at the EFL Awards but he’s going to need your votes if he’s to go one better than James Maddison did last season.
The award has an online poll which is worth 25 percent of the overall result, with the remaining 75pc from the EFL judging panel, however he faces competition from a Liverpool player.
Harry Wilson has done well for Derby this season on loan from the Reds, as he did for Hull last season, but I’m not sure I agree with Premier League players being eligible for this award. That’s nothing against Wilson, he could well be a fine signing should City end up in the Premier League next season.
I just think the EFL’s youth award should be for prospects making their way up from a lower level, on principle, not from one of the big boys, particularly when an online vote is involved – and can get a plug on Liverpool websites, as it has been this week.
You can vote for Aarons at eflypots.easports.com.
• TURNING POINT
When Middlesbrough pitched up at Carrow Road in September on the back of the first international break of the season they were sitting second in the table and City were 18th.
The 1-0 win deservedly secured by Norwich that day well and truly turned the tide. From the 31 league matches since that day Daniel Farke’s team have won a fairly ridiculous 21 and lost just three, scoring 67 goals and conceding 36.
Teemu Pukki scored the decisive goal, Emi Buendia set him up, Max Aarons made his Carrow Road league debut, Marco Stiepermann started his first league game in attacking midfield. That victory proved so revitalising that today the Canaries head to Boro with the Premier League within touching distance, knowing automatic promotion is in their hands with eight games remaining.
Become the first Canaries team since the title winners of 2004 to win seven on the spin at this level today and another City Hall balcony moment of glory will move even closer.