Paddy Davitt verdict: Buckle up City fans
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Given some of the reaction you could be forgiven for thinking it was Middlesbrough four points clear and Norwich City scrapping on the fringes of the Championship play-offs.
The Canaries’ inability to escape Boro’s superbly-drilled, suffocating defensive template appears to have exposed a seam of underlying self-doubt in certain quarters.
Norwich failed to muster a single shot on target. There are some who seek to detect a trend after a similarly anaemic effort in the previous FA Cup defeat at Barnsley; a fourth round exit with essentially a side constructed around minutes for fringe players and missing many of their key actors.
Emi Buendia’s latest failure to curtail his enthusiasm, passion, naivety (delete as applicable) essentially consigned those he left behind to try and protect a clean sheet. A feat they achieved yet again in what is becoming the cornerstone of this Championship promotion push.
The Argentine’s suspension for Millwall, and a heavyweight collision against Swansea, does nothing to aid the cause, but it is not the fatal blow some have started to fret about.
Nor is it revelatory teams like the Swans and rampant Brentford cashed in on City’s rare failure to stick another league win on the board. That is the essence of the Championship; a see-saw, nauseous ride that tilts this way and that.
Days earlier Norwich kicked back and watched the likes of Watford, Swansea and Brentford fail to make the most of midweek inactivity.
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- 5 David Freezer: Emotions bubbling for City as Watford tee up a proper title race
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- 7 QPR forced to deny manager is leaving ahead of City clash
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- 9 'We want to top this season off properly' - Krul's message to fans
- 10 Webber reveals he turned down 'massive job' to stay at City
It is not as if those inside or outside the club do not know what is coming. That titanic three-way tussle with Sheffield United and Leeds United two seasons ago was a nerve-jangling experience until the final week.
Perhaps what is different this time around, and why there is detectable unease, is Norwich’s almost serene progress following some early bumps; allied to the heightened expectancy around a club whose stated intent is to return to the Premier League.
In this context, a goalless draw against an opponent well-coached by the wily Warnock and with quality in their ranks like the majestic Jonny Howson is seen as a retrograde step.
For any who felt this was going to be all over, bar the shouting, well in advance then think again. Capturing a point at Carrow Road remains a badge of honour. Warnock set man-to-man traps, and after City’s bright start failed to yield reward, there was a crushing inevitability to the final outcome.
The icy wind that swirled around the stadium was an appropriate temperature for a raw-boned contest in which, on this occasion, Norwich were unable to escape the straightjacket.
There were shades of Millwall’s obdurate league visit back in early November that also ended goalless. One can predict more of the same when Norwich head to the Den. But it is worth remembering, for those who fear City’s points cushion will be further eroded by the time they return to Norfolk, Daniel Farke’s side carved out 27 attempts in that Millwall stalemate.
Even Warnock was prepared to concede he would trade ‘one or two’ of his attacking options for Norwich’s spearhead. Remove Buendia from the equation and there is still enough latent creativity, pace and guile to ensure the lack of productivity against Middlesbrough is placed in context.
Plus the influential Kenny McLean to come back after his self-isolation ended over the weekend following a recent coronavirus diagnosis.
This Norwich vintage is not the swashbuckling version who plundered seven goals in both league games against the Lions in 2018/19. To this point of their latest Championship tour they are residually effective; defensively resolute and with a goal output good enough to have won two more league games than any other side.
Farke preached caution when City went on a winning streak around the festive swing and many were already preparing the coronation. By the same token right now a couple of patchy offensive displays in league and cup, allied to signs rivals are beginning to loom in the rear view, is no cause to doubt this season is built on sound fundamentals.
Farke may even seek to harness the sense a frustrating game like Middlesbrough tempers soaring optimism.
To this advanced stage of the campaign Norwich have given themselves the best odds of breasting the tape ahead of the rest. But expect more turbulence, and match cycles when the wind feels in their faces. All that matters is those who rally to Norwich’s cause do not allow themselves to be blown off course.