Paddy Davitt verdict: City have stunned rivals into submission
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City’s faultless form might have been fantasy football. But the Championship can always be relied upon for a dose of cold reality.
First playing 15th. A team reaching for the stars against a side 37 points behind the Canaries, and with one league win since January 30. The outcome was inevitable. Another three points, a club record equalling 10 league victories in a row. Another bound closer to the big time.
Well, Tony Mowbray’s spirited mix of youth, experience and a sprinkling of former Norwich employees more than held their own.
Norwich still fashioned the best chances in a display where their attacking weaponry was blunted for long spells.
But Thomas Kaminski was resolute as Rovers’ last line and that luck you need deserted them with Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia both seeing deflected shots clip the woodwork.
To watch the manner Blackburn cohesively pressed is to wonder why more Championship rivals have not tried the same template.
Daniel Farke admitted at the break the message was to go longer in order to bypass the tactic. City were certainly more threatening following the interval, and Kenny McLean superbly finished an incisive move of real quality.
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But there was always a gnawing sense with each fresh attacking substitution from Mowbray this might be the day when Norwich had to settle for half measures.
Particularly with the disruption of defensive injuries to Dimitris Giannoulis and Ben Gibson. In Gibson’s case, there could be more far-reaching ramifications once the full extent of his ankle injury becomes clear in coming days.
City’s domination of the second tier to this point is in large part the story of how they have magnificently responded to adversity.
Right from the point they were shunted through the Premier League trapdoor and deposited back in the Football League with a fearful bump last summer.
Be it transfer window distractions, injuries to key players or the impact of coronavirus - both on a squad and the club’s balance sheet - the complexity of this season is unlikely to ever be repeated.
Yet there has been a relentlessness and ruthlessness which has gathered pace this year and culminated in the previous nine consecutive wins before Rovers refused to roll over.
Farke is not a man for hyperbole but even he had to concede the first half at Nottingham Forest during the week was close to perfection. They will be a Premier League club again in a few short weeks.
Even a ‘stumble’ at Carrow Road, if that is how you package a point that extended their unbeaten run on home soil to 18 contests, strengthened their position in the race for automatic promotion.
Brentford’s failure to beat a Nottingham Forest who Norwich toyed with at the City Ground was compounded by Swansea losing a Welsh derby at home to Cardiff. Only resurgent Watford managed to capitalise.
That is the Championship. Unpredictability and an evenness that ensures on any given weekend nothing can be taken for granted.
What Norwich mustered in claiming 28 points from the last 30 prior to this international break is an anomaly. Clubs very rarely cut such a swathe through what Farke likes to liberally refer to as the ‘toughest league in the world’. Norwich can be forgiven an afternoon when things do not go all their own way.
The bigger mystery is how Rovers are in such a lowly position, given the discomfort they caused Norwich in both Championship meetings this season.
The injury losses of Bradley Dack and Adam Armstrong have exposed younger players to the rough and tumble that Norwich have navigated better than any to this stage.
On this occasion, the fearless visitors relished the challenge and rose to the occasion. But it is the Canaries’ consistency on and off the pitch which leaves them a class apart.
Farke baulked at any suggestion the result would serve as a timely reminder to those inside the camp to retain focus. Neither the head coach nor the core of the playing squad who were here two seasons ago need any lessons on how tough it is to scramble over the finish line.
But the inability of the chasing pack to reel them in means the only pressure now comes from within, to maintain the standards that have driven the Canaries forward at a startling rate. Fantasy football indeed.