Paddy Davitt verdict: Clever Canaries trick rivals
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Limited
As cunning plans go Norwich City’s peek-a-boo with their Championship rivals looks inspired.
Picture the scene in a darkened room at the club’s Colney training base. Daniel Farke stands to address his squad.
Right lads, let’s see what the likes of Brentford and Swansea are made of. We are going to take our foot of the gas for three games and create the illusion maybe the pressure of leading from the front is getting to us. I know. Thinking outside of the box, but hear me out.
Throw in some goalless affairs to raise the hopes of the chasing pack. Maybe even let Brentford claim top spot for a few days. Lose at Swansea with a couple of self-inflicted errors. I know Tim, you never want to drop balls from corners but on this one occasion, trust me, it is for the greater good. Then sit back and watch the fallout.
Since Norwich trooped from the field in south Wales the top of the Championship has spun on its axis.
Brentford have lost three on the bounce, miserly Swansea sprung a leak to concede four goals at Huddersfield, and Norwich have menacingly re-discovered their killer instinct. Allied to the same defensive resolution that was the Swans’ stock-in-trade until this past weekend.
Even by the second tier’s standards, this has been a turbulent phase. Except, it seems, for Norwich who, as Farke rightly alluded to after repelling Rotherham to grind out a 1-0 win, have navigated towards calmer waters while the chasing pack are tossed in their wake.
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There is a joyous sense of expression to Norwich’s work right now. Almost as if the shackles have been released and those who matter in this equation realise how good they are and how fragile the rest seemingly appear.
By no measure have Farke’s squad had it all their own way against Stoke, Coventry or Paul Warne’s Millers. But they have ridden the bumpy moments and sought comfort in the enviable quality of their creative talent to fashion a chance, or a goal, almost at will.
Farke labelled it a ‘joke’ his team were only 1-0 up at the interval. Yet there was no frustration or panic.
You almost wanted Ben Wiles’ vicious half volley to smack the underside of Krul’s bar, rather than fly over the top early in the second half, to see how the Canaries would respond.
With Teemu Pukki back among the goals, Emi Buendia back among the assists and Todd Cantwell and two raiding full backs offering ample support, not to mention Olly Skipp caretaking behind, you suspect they would have slipped a gear or three and roared in front again.
Farke’s positivity when Brentford briefly ended their long tenure at the top has proved infectious. The idea a spell out of the limelight would be good for the Canaries was dismissed, almost as a sign of weakness.
No, City’s boss wanted to return to the summit as soon as possible, and demonstrate yet again how much they relish leading from the front. He did not have to wait long to get his wish.
Injury, and as Buendia’s recent absence underlined, suspension, is surely the only elements of doubt left in terms of this current sweeping them ever closer to a Premier League return.
The loss of Ben Gibson on the morning of the game merely afforded Christoph Zimmermann a chance to remind any who may have forgotten what a reliable operator he is at this level.
Farke was swift to preach caution after a weekend that could prove defining. Had Max Aarons not foiled Matt Crooks to block his goalbound late effort the soaring optimism would have been tempered.
The likes of Brentford and Swansea may also have felt reprieved the Canaries failed to punish their stumbles.
As it was, Aarons did his duty, Norwich avoided any late drama, and the rest must fear the game is already up with City seven points clear.
A midweek return to Birmingham to face the owners, rather than the tenants, offers another intriguing test. Aitor Karanka felt compelled to apologise to Farke at the ultra-defensive nature of his set-up in a Carrow Road affair settled by Mario Vrancic's sweeping finish.
One might reasonably expect more of the same at St Andrew’s. If so, that should mean more Pukki goals, more Buendia magic and more defensive resolve.
It is a potent brew. And it is Norwich's rivals who need to clear their heads.