David Freezer's verdict: Belief in City's potential growing with every game
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Outside of the Norwich City bubble there was plenty of expectation that the Canaries would be able to bounce straight back to the Premier League. Now that belief is growing stronger with every passing game for those inside the yellow and green bubble.
Just one defeat in 14 games, an international striker with a quite ridiculous record of 38 goals in 59 games at Championship level and potentially very influential players closing on returns to fitness.
Any City fans inhibited by the pain of previous relegations from the top flight are carefully having to consider that Daniel Farke might just have turned the tide and that their team have found a way to replace Premier League misery with promotion potential.
Unlike two years ago, it’s not yet because of a style which is blowing teams away but one which is proving resolute, stubborn and determined. Somehow, these Canaries players just keep finding a way to win.
Much hard work had gone into beating Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest 2-1 at Carrow Road, to lift the mood further by giving the 2,000 returning supporters at each game reason to smile during this most frustrating of years.
They were forced to dig deep again at Ewood Park, against an adventurous Blackburn team who were the division’s top scorers going into the weekend.
Farke had warned that he sees Rovers as play-off contenders and Tony Mowbray’s team proved their strength, ending a run of 28 consecutive games at this level when Norwich have enjoyed over 50 per cent of possession, since a 1-0 home win over Swansea in March 2019.
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They had 20 shots at goal, seven of which were on target. Michael McGovern was kept busy and made one particularly good save from Sam Gallagher early on, who was also denied by the crossbar.
Yet the visitors also had seven shots on target, in spite of one of their least impressive passing displays of the campaign, and had a trump card – the sharpshooter that is Teemu Pukki.
The man who has become a national hero in Finland admitted afterwards that the prospect of reaching 50 goals on the same day he clocked up 100 games for City had been a tantalising prospect he’d had his eye on.
The wonderful symmetry of achieving that impressive feat, of averaging exactly a goal every two matches, soothed the soul of statisticians all around. It was absolutely crucial as well.
The control, turn and ruthless finish for his opener had been impressive but in real-time it wasn’t clear quite how deft his winner had been, improvising in a split second to divert a wayward Emi Buendia blast past the wrong-footed Rovers keeper.
Pukki’s delight at finding the brace he and his team needed was only amplified once they got back to the dressing room and heard that all of Bournemouth, Watford, Swansea, Reading and Brentford had won – keeping the Canaries three points clear at the summit but with undoubtedly strong opposition chasing them hard.
For 10 of the 11 victories so far this season to have been edged by just one goal is proving that City have the ability to produce the goods when they are needed most. Regularly finding a way to come out on top is not a coincidental quirk.
Farke deserves credit for his interventions as well, given that he has sometimes been accused of being slow to make substitutions in the past.
Adam Idah at Huddersfield, Mario Vrancic at home to Birmingham and Wycombe, Bali Mumba’s game-turning impact against Swansea – all from the bench. Now it’s three games in a row as well.
It was Josh Martin starting the fightback against Wednesday and Todd Cantwell setting up Buendia’s winner against Forest – but on this occasion, it was more subtle.
As Pukki scored his second, Farke had Cantwell, Kenny McLean and Marco Stiepermann standing ready to come on as Blackburn had taken control after the break. Stiepermann would take his seat after the goal but the introduction of Cantwell and McLean in place of Martin and Vrancic helped wrestle back control.
Combined with Mowbray’s triple substitution of his midfielders soon after, City were able to kill the game, to regain some possession, to disrupt the hosts – so much so that Cantwell and Stiepermann both had fine chances to put the cherry on top with late chances they wasted.
So as the grey clouds of the injury crisis continue to clear, with Tim Krul and Lukas Rupp hoping to be back in contention this week, Farke’s squad can prepare for two more play-off hopefuls in Reading and Cardiff safe in the knowledge that they not only have the ability to compete at the Championship summit but the mental strength as well.