Paddy Davitt verdict: Keep calm and carry on City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It is a frightening prospect but if Norwich City really click the Championship should duck for cover.
Daniel Farke may be ageing by the game but the Canaries' relentless march is demoralising the rest of the division.
The City head coach admitted he did not enjoy the final moments of another efficient Barnsley victory, capped by Michal Helik’s sliding far-post effort which veered wide of Tim Krul’s goal.
Farke’s fury could be heard as well as seen by those present at Carrow Road. It was a little too close for comfort again, in a repeat of QPR’s stoppage-time miss a few days earlier. The margins remain fine, that intangible sense of momentum easily squandered.
Farke wanted a statement win after dropping points over the festive period against Watford and QPR. Given City’s pre-eminence at the top of the Championship that memo should have already circulated around the second tier.
This is not the Norwich of 2018/19. This is not the free flowing, swashbuckling, attacking gluttony we witnessed on the march to the title.
Farke is still conducting the orchestra off the pitch, Emi Buendia on it, but for so many reasons the path to what Norwich hope is the same end destination would appear more hazardous.
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City have had to shoulder the burden of expectation and navigate injuries that would surely have overwhelmed any other Championship side, bar perhaps the two who came down with them from the Premier League. Not to mention the distractions of the summer transfer window.
Alas, Buendia’s Barnsley brilliance on the opening day of January’s trading period triggered an unwanted sub-plot you can be sure will be repeated if he or Max Aarons or Todd Cantwell continue to impress.
Norwich can do no more than state their position publicly and privately. That trio must see the Premier League ranging back into view.
So too the people who matter at the top of the club.
Set against a transfer window framed by financial restrictions, and tighter revenues related to the pandemic, for all the avalanche of speculation it would be improbable if the relationship with any of those key assets was dissolved as soon as this month.
Not that such logic will offer any balm to those who see social media links to Arsenal for Buendia or Aarons with Manchester United.
Buendia looks well on course to eclipse his personal numbers from the club’s previous title triumph. But as Farke alluded to after his latest match winner, he is a different player. A better player. There is a maturity to his craft and a sense perhaps the talent is now firmly in the ascendant and previous concerns about a questionable temperament or frustrated outbursts are under control.
He looks a player at ease in his surroundings and enjoying the imprint he is leaving on his team.
The only wonder is how, with such quality in the ranks, Norwich continue to creep forward in increments. For all their weight of possession and potent creativity they have only beaten Bristol City and Cardiff by more than a one goal margin. Hence Farke’s palpitations in the past week as he nervously watched his team navigate stoppage time drama.
But to have constructed such a large body of one-goal league wins to this halfway stage of a season unlike any other is actually as much a testament to the character and defensive resolve, as it is a lack of insurance from a greater weight of goals.
That is why Norwich lead the rest. That is why they set the standard. That is why they are the team to catch.
You can be sure Farke’s relative discomfort watching matches his side have dominated might be eased by a dollop of exhibition football, but what reassurance he must draw from knowing his players find a way.
Barnsley was another softening up exercise before delivering a decisive blow in thrilling fashion, when Buendia swept home Kenny McLean’s perfectly weighted long pass. It was a majestic, high tariff move from start to finish.
But it came after an hour of controlled work where Norwich, as a collective, patiently prodded and probed and chipped away at the edifice to weaken the Tykes' resistance.
Add that cutting edge in greater quantities and there is a beating or two to be dispensed in this campaign yet.
But, in truth, one might expect things to tighten up as the pressure builds and the quest for points and momentum intensifies over the promotion run in. Then Norwich’s efficiency may well prove their greatest asset.