Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s tense 1-1 Championship draw against Wigan Athletic
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Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his Wigan verdict after the Canaries’ battling 1-1 Championship draw
1. Walk towards the light
The Premier League is not going to come to Norwich. The Canaries need to go and grab it. All the hard work, all the fantastic football, all the thrills and spills have got them within touching distance. But the final yards appear to be proving the hardest.
As they should, given the scale of the prize on offer.
City looked inhibited, timid, fretful in the first half. It felt like the first time the full enormity of what is on offer was weighing heavy on the players Daniel Farke had entrusted to carry out his instructions.
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That yellow wall of support were subdued. It was more of the same after the break, until a triple change brought the soothing influence of Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic to a midfield that had frayed around the edges for most of what went before.
Teemu Pukki coolly slotted his 27th league goal of the season. There were chances to win it. None more so than Marco Stiepermann deep in stoppage time.
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But when the dust settled, a seven point gap to third-placed Sheffield United remains an enviable buffer. The sooner it is done, the better for all concerned with a stake in this epic journey.
2. Penalty woes
Vrancic’s spot kick to beat Wigan in the corresponding fixture was a rarity this season. The number of fluffed attempts will hopefully remain a quirky aside in the final story.
But perhaps it came as little surprise City were again forced to pay the penalty.
Ben Godfrey was adjudged to have handled Sam Morsy’s piledriver, which initially appeared to strike his body and rear up towards his arm. Referee Linnington was in no doubt and raced to the scene.
Farke afterwards sarcastically called it ‘his quickest sprint of the whole game’. The City head coach certainly feels his side are on the wrong side of the officials at present as he cited Emi Buendia’s red card against QPR, plus two strong shouts against Reading.
Leon Clarke’s later ‘goal’ which was flagged offside could certainly have stood on another day given the tightness of the decision.
In truth, Wigan perhaps deserved their half-time advantage after wearing down the Canaries and dictating in midfield. Farke may also wish to reflect on why Morsy had so much time and space at the edge of the Canaries’ penalty area. But it would be nice if between now and Aston Villa, Norwich have a positive penalty story in the locker.
3. Well, vinyl is making a comeback
Part of the issue in the last two gruelling Championship encounters for Norwich has been the speed of their passing.
With opponents retreating en masse, City have been too laboured and too measured in working the ball into positions of promise. Too often they are looking for that magic pass to pick a path through a congested penalty area. It was more of the same here.
For the first hour at least it was a 45rpm record when it needed to be a 78. Tom Trybull and Kenny McLean have been assured and pivotal to this late season surge. McLean added another assist to his personal column, with the threaded pass for Pukki to slot.
But Farke must surely give serious consideration to restoring Leitner and Vrancic to inject some devil into Norwich’s play in central areas. With neither Todd Cantwell or Onel Hernandez able to offer a different dimension, City were too predictable in the north-west.
4. Bad boy Buendia
Farke revealed after his QPR rush of blood, Buendia had been in tears. Norwich fans must feel like a sniffle at present. The magical midfielder’s vision and intelligence are sorely missed commodities, since his self-imposed exile through suspension.
City have dominated the ball but for long spells against both Reading and now Wigan but lacked the imagination to fashion the type of breakthrough that was rapidly becoming Buendia’s stock in trade.
The 22-year-old must sit out Sheffield Wednesday’s Good Friday visit but you can be sure he will be swiftly restored to the ranks for the run in. Then he can show everyone what Norwich have missed in his absence and how crucial he is to City’s attacking weaponry.
5. Easter epic
Sheffield United kick off at lunchtime on Good Friday at home to Nottingham Forest. They have to respond after the huge disappointment of letting two points slip at home to Millwall.
It really does feel like win-or-bust territory for Chris Wilder’s squad now. Fail to beat the Reds and Norwich will know a home win in the evening over Steve Bruce’s Sheffield Wednesday carries them to the brink.
In all probability, they could then seal the deal at Stoke City on Easter Monday.
It promises to be a memorable few days, starting with another tense, taut and hopefully triumphant occasion at Carrow Road. Farke’s squad is so near. Talk of the title has crept in since Norwich did the business at Middlesbrough.
That really can wait. The primary objective is yet to be achieved.