Paddy's Pointers: Five observations from the Canaries' 2-1 Championship win against Cardiff City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Cardiff City verdict after Norwich City's 2-1 Championship victory.
1. Pleasure and a dash of pain
Another major statement of intent from the Canaries. Even more daylight at the top with Bournemouth slipping up at home to Luton and Swansea playing later on Saturday evening.
A totally dominant first half showing in Cardiff. After an early let off when Harry Wilson fluffed his lines. Norwich were a class apart prior to the interval. But Joe Ralls’ close range finish after the break and the arrival of fit-again talisman Kieffer Moore made for a testing second period. Cardiff positively seemed to grow in belief in the aftermath of Marlon Pack's second yellow card.
Norwich had their chances on the counter to seal the victory in style but instead it was another slab of defensive defiance. There really is seemingly no game that is beyond Daniel Farke’s table toppers this season.
If you want to take them on at a game of football, you will lose. If you want to try and pin them back and make it a muscular contest, like here in the second half or Stoke City earlier in the season, they can roll up their sleeves and tough it out. Opponents must be getting pretty dispirited.
There appears no residual chinks in the armour. Norwich have a healthy buffer now. But more importantly, they appear to have the collective, laser-guided focus as a group they know they are the best in the division and relish proving it.
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2. Cool hand Cantwell
Put another goal against the Bluebirds to one side for a moment, the most impressive facet of Todd Cantwell’s work was his appetite for work. The level of sheer graft was another signal the man from Dereham is accepting the responsibility to drive his team forward.
All that talk of distractions and a lack of focus during the summer transfer window looks firmly behind him.
Farke maintained throughout a turbulent period Cantwell would return to be a key figure in the defining part of the campaign. That means his club navigating what remains of this current transfer window without any more episodes of the summer soap opera of endless speculation and rumour about his future.
It also means Cantwell maintaining this level of focus and selfless output. There was one moment a few minutes before the interval that encapsulated his performance. A loss of the ball on the edge of the Cardiff box prompted a burst of energy to go and win it back immediately at source to halt a potential home counter. A small act but a big statement.
3. Message received. Loud and clear
Farke reiterated on Friday he wants to bring in a keeper this month, with Michael McGovern out for weeks and Tim Krul only just back from his own thigh issue but then required to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus.
There was a welcome boost for all concerned prior to this game when the Dutch international posted a message on his own social media confirming he was now back with his family and feeling much better. One hopes that signals he is back in contention for Bristol City’s upcoming midweek visit.
Although young Barden might rightfully feel he deserves to keep the shirt. What a week or so in that lad’s life. A man of the match display in the FA Cup. Then another assured outing on his full league debut. How proud his Cardiff-born father will be. The composure and the temperament are at this early stage more impressive than the ability.
Particularly when Cardiff sensed blood and tried to rally around the aerial threat of Moore in that tense final quarter. Barden’s senior displays must surely be lessening the concern Norwich need to act quickly to bring in reinforcements.
4. For Farke’s next trick
Not content with simply winning games of Championship football, or dealing with another raft of absent players, the City head coach clearly had a premonition prior to another demonstration of the gulf in class between his side and the rest.
Farke highlighted Norwich’s deficiency at set pieces this season. In sharp contrast to Cardiff’s potency from free kicks and corners.
To put it into bald statistics, the Bluebirds had scored 10 more goals than the visitors from that particular source. Not just that, Farke also referenced Grant Hanley’s on going threat without finding the end product.
It took barely three minutes for both strands to entwine in the opening goal. Mario Vrancic flicked Emi Buendia’s corner towards the centre of the six yard box, where Hanley evaded detection to crash a header past Alex Smithies.
There was another close shave prior to the break when Kenny McLean’s near post header brushed the side netting from another Buendia set piece.
Farke is not looking re-invention or a move away from the smooth, measured possession-based strategy which is serving them so well. But City clearly possess the aerial threats to improve their tally over the run in.
5. Handy Hugill
The absence of Teemu Pukki from the Norwich line up with a side strain will have induced a sharp intake of breath among the City faithful. It is not just Pukki’s goals but his superb work outside the penalty area which is why he is an intrinsic part of Farke’s template.
But it was a rare opportunity for Hugill to serve notice again that in the right setting, with the right service, he can be an effective alternative. He is also not a bad barber either, given his post-match admission he gave Barden his new short back and sides.
After his goalscoring display in the FA Cup the previous weekend this was another chance to put down a marker. His first shot was parried for Cantwell to double Norwich’s lead, and there was a sureness to a lot of his work in open play that perhaps belies the sense he is simply a targetman. Albeit he might want to try and avoid handling the ball too often given the late stoppage time chance for the Bluebirds to load the ball into the visiting area.
There has been no outward trace of frustration at his bit-part role but you can be sure he expected more exposure when he swapped Premier League West Ham for the Canaries. Pukki should return sooner rather than later after a precautionary absence in Wales. But Hugill is giving Farke a nudge or two.