Paddy Davitt: Norwich City prepare to wave goodbye to the madness of the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
This is football. But not quite as we know it any longer. Norwich City and the quest for Championship promotion is some story.
City finished their game at Stoke City with players scattered across the turf. Deflated, exhausted and dejected. Daniel Farke went to as many as he could with words of encouragement that no doubt carried a hollow ring.
Many miles south, a former Canaries’ player who never remotely lived up to the hype after joining from Liverpool was engineering the downfall of a crestfallen Leeds. Sergi Canos provided an assist for Brentford sharpshooter Neal Maupay and then twisted the dagger to seal a 2-0 win which pushed his former club to the very brink of the Premier League.
When the final whistle sounded at Griffin Park it was no longer Norwich City players who looked like they had had the air sucked out of them. It was Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine was hailed as a football visionary when he swept into Elland Road.
But to get Leeds into the top flight from this position may need Harry Houdini. A home game against red hot Aston Villa this coming weekend may double as a dress rehearsal for a play-off battle ahead.
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By the time Leeds emerge again into the light on Sunday lunchtime, Farke’s boys could already be Premier League-bound.
It would take a frankly implausible swing of events now to tilt the points and goal difference back in Leeds’ direction.
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What threatened to be a tense, taut occasion against Blackburn on Saturday evening at Carrow Road can be a carnival. A celebration of an immense achievement against the odds.
The destination of the Championship title may go to the final weekend but a point against Rovers is all that is now required.
After nine months of slog and toil, those persistent questions that dogged Farke and his methods after a sluggish start to the new campaign, and now a finishing line that has felt maddeningly out of reach following four consecutive league draws, the pressure valve is about to be released.
Farke, his players, sporting director Stuart Webber and every member of staff deserve the acclaim.
Norwich may not have got the result they desired in the Potteries, but it was another demonstration of what has taken them to the summit. Twice they led, twice they were pegged back.
Farke opted to charitably package those aberrations as the mistakes you get with an inexperienced group. Certainly, Norwich have been vulnerable to conceding from corners at various stages. While Onel Hernandez’s decision-making remains a topic that can frustrate and thrill in equal measure.
To slip in attempting to dart between two Stoke players on the edge of his own penalty area, barely three minutes after Teemu Pukki’s header had appeared to quell the Stoke storm, was a source of huge frustration.
A game that had been firmly under control prior to the interval turned into a frenetic assault on the senses. Sam Clucas blazed over on the half-volley.
James McClean suddenly looked like the wide player who has starred at various stages for the Republic of Ireland. Welsh international Joe Allen was pulling the strings. But Norwich resisted and then responded.
Jamal Lewis dragged a shot wide. The final five minutes of stoppage time were spent almost exclusively in the Stoke penalty area. Yet there was no dramatic late twist on this occasion.
Like Pukki’s goal against Millwall. Or Hernandez’s salvo against Nottingham Forest.
Or Mario Vrancic’s 97th equaliser on Good Friday at home to Sheffield Wednesday. What we got instead was another visible demonstration of the heart to go with the quality that has propelled Norwich to what will be the most unlikely promotion success you could imagine.