Paddy Davitt verdict: City see the light
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Normal service resumed for Norwich City? Not quite. The manner they hammered Stoke felt like a step change.
The Potters played their part in an approach that actually looked to engage the hosts rather than cling on grimly for survival; striving to deny Daniel Farke’s men space and presumably hope rising frustration might suck the life out of another anaemic attacking effort.
It required the Canaries to accept the invitation. They did so in a venomous start to the game that set the tone, despite some uncomfortable periods before and after the interval.
You could point to a full week to prepare, to rest in some cases or to revive in others. You could point to the extra motivation from a scoreless rut that emboldened both Swansea and Brentford to reel Norwich back in.
You could highlight a wonderful return from Emi Buendia and a restorative brace from Teemu Pukki, or a sublime individual Todd Cantwell opener with a dash of Bosnian brilliance from Mario Vrancic.
Farke’s public pronouncements are always compelling. But his pre-match admission Norwich needed to move the ball quicker in that final third was followed by team news that paired Dimitris Giannoulis and Max Aarons in tandem on either defensive flank.
Not only that but both clearly were under orders to get on the front foot at every opportunity.
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Aarons has shown glimpses of that attacking zeal this season but this was a sustained onslaught, capped by another adventurous burst that ended in Buendia tricking Joe Allen to earn a penalty despatched by Pukki.
Giannoulis underlined why Farke declared on Friday Jacob Sorensen’s makeshift spell at left back is now over.
There was a calamitous error to gift Nick Powell Stoke’s reply. But the attacking riposte was swift and devastating. Bursting onto Cantwell’s flick to veer around a defender and cut the ball back from the byline for Buendia to sweep home Norwich’s third.
It was the visible definition of why Farke has pitted Giannoulis and Xavi Quintilla in direct combat from here on.
This was not about personnel tweaks, it was a pivot back to the future. To watch Giannoulis and Aarons flying down either flank was to evoke memories of the young man’s double act with Jamal Lewis in that previous title winning success.
It was a crucial component of Farke’s methodology then. It remains so now. And until this advanced part of the current campaign he had been unable to replicate one of the cornerstones of a feat they aim to emulate.
Quintilla had shown his attacking instincts at the outset of his City spell, but then Norwich were still hesitant and feeling their way through the fog of relegation and endless speculation around the futures of players like Buendia and Cantwell. Now the horizon has narrowed and the only goal over these remaining months is promotion back to the Premier League.
This was not just the first time Norwich had scored four in the league this season. It was the first time since they crushed QPR in a statement of intent back in April 2019. Pukki notched a brace that day, Buendia was also on target before a rash red card.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Argentine needed a big performance after his latest suspension robbed Norwich of a key asset at Millwall and more crucially Swansea. Now he needs to keep his nose clean and continue to furnish a reputation as the best creative talent in the Championship.
There really is no need to quantify his contribution. He is a special player in this City unit. His skill on the ball, balance, intelligence and technical grace are matched by a desire that on occasion pushes him the wrong side of the line.
In this game it pushed him on to close down Morgan Fox in what some might have seen as a forlorn chase.
Then he was able to cushion the ball with his head before the simplest of tap ins for Pukki brought the Argentine his seventh assist of the campaign. An eighth goal followed when he whipped Giannoulis’ low cross past Angus Gunn.
There will surely be many more of both over the crucial run in if he can stay in the moment, contain his enthusiasm and manage his frustration.
That applies equally to Farke and his team.