Paddy Davitt verdict: Relentless City operating on a different level
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
This has gone way beyond character and fighting spirit. Norwich City’s single-minded pursuit of the Premier League is seemingly an obsession.
No Championship rival, no level of injuries, not even sadly a growing number of positive coronavirus cases, appears capable of halting the inexorable march back to the top flight.
There is almost a maniacal focus to how Daniel Farke and his team continue to move forward and through rather than over obstacles placed in their path.
Be it the historical trend that suggested before a ball was even kicked this season relegated Premier League teams find it incredibly tough to bounce back immediately. Or the absences of key players like Tim Krul, and Teemu Pukki at Cardiff, who one felt would be critical to the success or failure of this mission.
Or even the current worrying situation, which forces them to confront the dangers of a pandemic on human health and the psychological torment on a tight-knit group.
One only had to listen to Farke explain how some of his players were still awaiting the outcome of test results hours before the trip to Wales to know, firstly and far more importantly, what that meant for them and their families and then potentially for Farke’s Cardiff planning, to realise these are unprecedented times.
The City chief expects to be missing players due to more positive tests for maybe the next eight to 10 weeks.
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Yet what unfolded again at Cardiff, in terms of quality and bloody minded doggedness, suggests they will cope. Not just cope but flourish.
Swansea remain in their slipstream, and for any who watched the smooth Swans at Carrow Road that must come as no huge surprise. But the rest of the chasing pack look in danger of receding into the distance if Norwich maintain their frenetic pace-setting for a few more weeks.
The record numbers scarcely tell the story. It is how City have raced to 50 points and who has helped them achieve that which makes it a compelling tale.
Should this path end in a swift return to the Premier League come May, the volume of personal chapters to digest will be vast.
Jacob Sorensen’s transformation from a stop gap emergency measure at left back that night at Brentford to a man who, even when he returns to his more favoured central midfield station, will indelibly be remembered perhaps for his prolonged shift in defence.
There is the way Olly Skipp has blossomed from a raw, albeit highly rated Tottenham asset, to a rapidly maturing influence on City’s midfield. The experience and vocal presence of Ben Gibson alongside a Grant Hanley who cuts such a dominant figure now his fitness issues look behind him.
It is the consistency of Emi Buendia, the understated class of Max Aarons, Pukki back in the goals, Todd Cantwell back in the groove and in the last two weeks the composure of Daniel Barden.
It will be those stories and many more but above all it will be about the collective. For that is what has propelled Norwich to such a position of strength.
When Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber arrived in 2017 they talked in ephemeral terms of growing a culture, a philosophy, a set of core values to nourish and then guide the football club.
You can see that in the bricks and mortar of how Colney was transformed, or the astute work in the transfer market to repair the damage from previous regimes, and insulate the club now from the unforeseen loss of matchday revenue.
But in a much narrower sense you can see the philosophy on the pitch in how Norwich rise and keep rising in the face of adversity.
Krul comes out, Barden goes in. Pukki goes out, Hugill comes in. Lukas Rupp goes out, Kenny McLean comes in.
The names on the back of the shirt change but the manner City play, the understanding in and out of possession, the quality and the fight remain at a level which is proving too hot for the rest of the Championship.
If those promotion rivals are waiting for a prolonged downturn they may be disappointed.
Norwich will inevitably lose games, given the relentless nature of this division, but there is no trace of complacency or a sense the job is done.
It is for the rest to drag Norwich back to the pack. They are not stopping for anyone or anything.