Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s last-gasp 1-0 Championship win against Birmingham City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Group Football Editor Paddy Davitt delivers his Birmingham verdict after the Canaries’ 1-0 Championship win.
1. Answers on a postcard
This looked set to be another tale of sheer, utter frustration. City had 74pc possession and mustered four shots on target.
But they only needed the one. Mario Vrancic illustrating he remains a key part of the battleplan when he shadowed Adam Idah and then swept home when the ball rebounded into his path.
That after Adam Clayton had just been dismissed for a second bookable offence to remove a blue brick from the blue wall.
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Birmingham appeared to view a point as a badge of honour. Much like Derby here last time at Carrow Road they were on course to return home with a reward. But Norwich go deep. That is what they do.
That is what they did two years ago to impressive effect. It was an attritional, relentless barrage of possession. But Daniel Farke must hope there are easier ways to win games of football in the Championship.
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2. Turning the page, Todd
Straight back into the starting line up for Dereham’s own Todd Cantwell after missing out against Rotherham with a bruised knee. Farke spoke honestly and openly about the rollercoaster his young attacking midfielder has endured in his pre-match press briefing.
But with the window firmly closed until January and Cantwell still in the building there had been time to reflect and find common ground over the recent international break.
Whatever the future brings, Cantwell is undoubtedly too good not to be in this Norwich line up in the Championship. A man of the match display was fitting. The headline could have been even bolder with two clear sighters of goal in the first half. His first sidefooted effort slid just wide before Neil Etheridge stuck out a boot to foil him on the angle. Teemu Pukki may have cause to question why Cantwell did not opt to cut the ball back but there could be no complaints at his work rate, his endeavour and his quality in those tight pockets of space.
As Farke said on Monday, there will be no switch to flick. This is now a process. Each training session, each game Cantwell has to show he is focused on the job in hand.
3. The power of 10
Marco Stiepermann’s pre-match illness may well have forced Farke’s hand but immediately the sight of Pukki on a team sheet with Jordan Hugill induced a frisson of excitement.
Even with the Finn slightly more withdrawn than his leading man role there is enough latent goalscoring threat and guile to deserve perhaps a longer audition for this pair. It might even prove an inspired tactical move if Hugill can draw attention away to allow those clever runs down the channels from deeper positions into the box.
City’s quest to find an answer to that key position led them to recruit Kieran Dowell in the summer.
But with the ex-Evertonian now laid up until the new year there remains a vacancy. Pukki might not have been the first choice but these things have a habit of evolving organically.
The only concern was again he appeared to pull up lame in the closing stages and was shortly after replaced by Przemyslaw Placheta. Farke dismissed any fitness concerns after the game when he put it down to a bout of cramp on a heavy pitch. It would be good to see that attacking partnership get another outing this weekend.
4. Beauty and the beast
In the space of literally seconds after the interval you saw again what Emi Buendia brings to this Norwich collective. Good and bad.
A high risk drag back just inside his own half triggered a Birmingham counter, which required Tim Krul to foil Jeremie Bela at his near post. From the very next passage of play the Argentine was threading a pass through a forest of blue shirts for Cantwell to lift past Etheridge.
Alas, the assistant had correctly flagged for offside. Then the decisive, match clinching act had his stamp on it with a perfectly weighted pass for Idah that eventually found its way to Vrancic.
It underlined once again there is an allowance required to get Buendia front and centre in this mix. Given every Championship rival thus far seems hell bent on erecting barriers in front of their own 18 yard box his value is growing exponentially.
Buendia is the foremost exponent in this squad if you want someone to see a pass and execute it.
It feels there is always going to be that one error that might prove costly in any body of work. Witness his loss of possession again deep in stoppage time that saw Harlee Dean club wide. But the compensation is ample.
City now need to round off a Championship-affirming week with a victory back at Carrow Road against newly promoted Wycombe on Saturday. Wanderers have endured a difficult start to life at this level but you can be sure they will study Birmingham’s obdurate approach and seek to match it.
But should City manage to find a way, as they have done against both Rotherham and now Birmingham, then there will be a real sense of momentum.
The Canaries currently have to grind out results. The panache and the polish can come down the line. But a first home win since beating Leicester in February was also another important signpost. Fans or no fans, Farke’s ‘living room’ has to be a place opponents fear to tread.