Paddy Davitt verdict: The best of times in the very worst of times

Todd Cantwell thumped home a second half strike to seal Norwich City's 2-0 Championship win over Cardiff City

Todd Cantwell thumped home a second half strike to seal Norwich City's 2-0 Championship win over Cardiff City - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Daniel Farke and his Norwich City players are paid to win football games. Right now they are also raising spirits. 

That isn't meant to be flippant. That is fact. If you are a Norwich City fan ask yourself what is the one, uplifting shaft of light in a depressing, bleak time in all our lives at present?

Father Christmas joins in with OTBC before the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Pi

Father Christmas joins in with OTBC before the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/12/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It is surely the respite and distraction of watching those in green and yellow cutting a swathe through the Championship. Before the depressing reality crowds back in after 90 minutes or so of pleasure and you return to enduring, not enjoying, this Christmas without family and friends. Then brace for whatever the weeks and months ahead entail before any semblance of normality returns. 

In such a grave context football and the pursuit of wins, points and Premier League promotion is meaningless. But it is also life-affirming. 

That has shone like a beacon during this year of a game largely played in soulless, empty stadia. It is about community and sticking together, facing adversity to eventually come out the other side. City’s assured display against Cardiff in front of 2,000 fans at a Carrow Road bathed in wintry sunshine was a beautiful, pure snapshot.

To watch Emi Buendia or Todd Cantwell caress a football is to watch two artists at work. But it is also to appreciate Farke’s ability to entwine the silk with the steel. Norwich have effectively ground their way to a position where they sit five points clear on Christmas Day against the backdrop of early season transfer distractions and a debilitating injury list.

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke celebrates victory with the fans at the end of the Sky Bet Champions

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke celebrates victory with the fans at the end of the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/12/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The former will inevitably swing back into focus from now until the end of January.

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The latter is still a concern, albeit a fully populated bench against the Bluebirds - packed with experience and proven talent - was another sign the backlog is easing. 

But if Norwich can navigate between those two poles again as they enter 2021 what or who else can stop them? Farke had an interesting post-match take on whether his squad can get even better in the weeks ahead. A fair premise given they have yet to really punish teams for all their weight of possession, territorial dominance and chance creation.

His answer hinted the highest peak might already have been scaled. Essentially more fit players available leads to inevitable dissatisfaction at a lack of regular game time, and potentially the negative impact on the harmony and mood inside the dressing room. That feels like a gentle warning rather than an inevitable consequence. 

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke and the whole bench react to a foul on Todd Cantwell of Norwich by H

Norwich Head Coach Daniel Farke and the whole bench react to a foul on Todd Cantwell of Norwich by Harry Wilson of Cardiff City during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/12/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

With the leadership of men like Tim Krul or Alex Tettey or Grant Hanley, under the guidance of Farke himself, such adverse vibes will struggle to penetrate the Norwich bubble. A winning team, a team leading from the front, is a healthy antidote to any individual frustrations at limited role play.

Far more worrying is what unfolds in terms of the deficit between rumour and speculation and any tangible transfer interest in Buendia, Cantwell and Max Aarons to name but three jewels.

In that void outside firm approaches will come endless chit chat linking any or all three with the Premier League, or maybe further afield. 

Farke has recently praised the focus of Cantwell and Buendia, who both starred against the Bluebirds. 

That is why perhaps it is best for all concerned to live in the present, to marvel at their craft on the pitch and savour the composed, suffocating hold Norwich have exerted on the rest of the Championship. 

To have heads turned or get carried away by constantly featuring in those transfer gossip columns is a cul-de-sac best avoided.  

Farke is right to preach caution. With so many games left and the vagaries of injury, suspension or more broadly the on going consequences of the pandemic on the wider game – should infection rates continue to climb and the roll out of any mass vaccination programme not be viable in the short term - it is advisable to live in the moment.  

And what a moment. Get lost in the creative genius of Buendia or the goalscoring prowess of Teemu Pukki. Or the emerging influence of Olly Skipp and the reassuring presence of Hanley. You could go on.

Tempers flare during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
Picture by Paul Chestert

Tempers flare during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd +44 7904 640267 19/12/2020 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

But this is not about individuals at present. Norwich as a collective can throttle games with their possession, as they did so effectively at Reading on the road last time out, or they can deal with a physically robust Cardiff and add that dash or two of attacking quality that sets them apart. 

It looks at this stage like they have cracked the code. 

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