Paddy Davitt verdict: Less glitter, more grime but it is working for City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City swashbuckled their way to the title two years ago. Right now they are sickening their Championship rivals.
Maybe we failed to see it at the time, but perhaps the tone was set on the opening weekend at Huddersfield. City had to dig in against the fired-up Terriers and deal with opponents who viewed the Canaries as a major scalp. There were uncomfortable moments and only fleeting glimpses of the smooth, polished passing rhythms we associate with a Daniel Farke team in these parts. Yet they found a way.
Teemu Pukki cashed in on a poor back pass to square for Adam Idah to complete the job. Before Tim Krul and those in front of him kept the padlock on.
Fast forward 11 league games and two and a half months and not a lot appears to have materially changed. For Norwich or the rest.
City were nowhere near the highest gears they possess against Middlesbrough but they resisted. They were resolute and obdurate in the face of the concerted press from Jonny Howson’s boys. They rode their luck on a bizarre penalty spurned by the hosts but found a way from 12 yards through their own goalscoring talisman.
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Then under the leadership of Grant Hanley they kicked, tackled and headed everything Boro could muster in the final quarter to secure a third consecutive league clean sheet.
Lest one forget, Farke’s first season at Norwich brought a club record run of consecutive shut-outs that included another 1-0 away triumph in the north-east. But defensive resolution is not the badge you would adorn to the German’s Carrow Road tenure. Norwich, in the main, romped to that Championship title win on a diet of attacking adventure.
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It was thrilling football to the sound of the trumpets. Progress this time around feels far more circumspect, far more measured, far more economical but no less impressive in both consistency and stealth.
To eclipse a Middlesbrough who, by and large, had a full squad and a fortnight to prepare when the rump of Farke’s resources were either scattered around Europe or on a treatment table made this arguably the best win yet of the campaign.
Excuses were readily available.
That Norwich rejected the easy path and sought to scale the peak in front of them speaks volumes about the characters and the character within this dressing room. It provides reassurance whatever this season throws at City they can weather adverse currents.
That is why you can be sure there will already be unease among those in the Canaries’ early slipstream. If there was any vulnerability or frailty after a bumpy exit from the Premier League you would have expected it to surface in these first few weeks of combat.
For Norwich to head to Stoke on an eight-match unbeaten run that has included tussles with Brentford, Bristol City and Swansea, prior to the latest engagement with Neil Warnock, should set alarm bells ringing.
Farke and those on the same journey two seasons ago proved they are comfortable front-running. Before a ball was kicked at Huddersfield this season they had a target on their collective back. The fact they have hit the top this early is unlikely to faze the current crop.
If anything there must be a degree of underlying excitement at what lies ahead, if they can marry a productive seam of attacking output.
It is not what Championship rivals can muster that appears the gravest danger.
It is the debilitating injuries, and the clusters forming around certain parts of the squad. Jacob Sorensen must steer clear of both injury and suspension if Xavi Quintilla is unable to return in the short term, now Bali Mumba is out for 10 weeks with a knee ligament injury. Likewise, with Adam Idah out for a similar length, City need some positive news in the coming hours regarding Jordan Hugill’s shoulder issue that cut short his Teesside return.
Farke must feel every press conference demands a running commentary on Pukki’s workload for club and country, but no Hugill or Idah during a portion of this congested pre-festive swing would place an even higher premium on the Finn’s capacity for graft.
City, of course, will not be alone in managing the negative impact on playing staffs from a contracted season and what feels, even by Championship standards, a challenging schedule.
But the incessant nature of the grind may also in part underscore why it has to be a different path this time around.
Less glitter and more grime. If it ends in the same destination come next May there will be few complaints.