Six things you might have missed after Norwich City's victory in Cardiff
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Following an important win in Cardiff featuring a mix of class and character, David Freezer takes a look at six things you might have missed after Norwich City's latest Championship triumph.
1 - Classy Cantwell
Let's kick off with acknowledgement of just how good Todd Cantwell's performance was in South Wales.
The attacking midfielder scored what proved to be the decisive goal and has now either scored or assisted four of the last seven Canaries goals.
It was all about the 22-year-old's energy though, with two Cardiff players booked for taking evasive action to halt his forward movement. He was fouled five times, more than any other player on the pitch.
Only two players in the division are fouled more than his average of 2.9 per game. He may go down dramatically at times but so do James Maddison and Jack Grealish, who were both the most fouled players during their best Championship seasons and it hasn't done them any harm.
He took his opportunity to score calmly after Jordan Hugill had been denied and at times cut through Cardiff like a hot knife through butter, with Alex Smithies making one fine save late on. The 'Dereham Deco' is clearly enjoying his football - long may that continue.
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2 - Superb position
Victory soon tasted even sweeter in South Wales, once news had filtered through of Bournemouth's defeat.
It meant the crucial gap to third place had stretched to eight points as the second half of the season begins. Add a gap to seventh place of 14 points and the superb position City have assumed, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and various injury problems, becomes all the clearer.
Never before has a Norwich City squad amassed 50 points after 24 matches, although the Division Two title winners back in 1971-72 would have been on 50 if they'd received three points for a win. It's also two points more than Daniel Farke's eventual champions had at this stage in 2018-19.
In the past 10 seasons the Championship winners have averaged 93 points and the runners-up 88. If City, for example, were to win 11, draw seven and lose four of their remaining 22 matches, they'll hit 90 points.
Bear in mind that, since losing to Derby in October, they've taken 46 points from 20 matches and lost just twice. That averages at 2.3 per game. Keep that rate up and they're on course to threaten the 100-point barrier.
3 - Crucial context
The next part of the story is the crucial context that this victory over an awkward Cardiff side was achieved with 11 players unavailable.
Tim Krul was finishing his Covid-19 isolation period and could feature against Bristol City on Wednesday, while Adam Idah can now continue making his way back from injury after his spell in isolation. Xavi Quintilla and Bali Mumba are also isolating after positive tests though.
Lukas Rupp and Josh Martin had flu symptoms, Marco Stiepermann is fighting a virus and injury kept out Teemu Pukki, Christoph Zimmermann, Sam Byram and Michael McGovern.
So just the four internationals - including your top scorer and number one goalkeeper - as well as two previous Championship title winners and a former Bundesliga regular.
4 - Waiting in the wings
Aside from those 11 players listed, City have been able to welcome two potentially very influential players back to their squad.
Onel Hernandez is yet to return to the pitch but has been on the bench for the last two games, a player who contributed nine goals and 10 assists during 2018-19.
Kieran Dowell also returned among the substitutes this weekend, barely a week since minor surgery to remove a screw from his previous ankle surgery which had been causing him pain.
Next weekend's trip to Barnsley in the FA Cup fourth round will again offer the opportunity for valuable minutes, with a host of players hungry for action. That includes Poland international Przemek Placheta, who forced a good save during his 20-minute cameo at Cardiff.
Farke was also able to finally give academy centre-back Andrew Omobamidele his senior debut during the chaotic closing stages of injury-time, as the hosts desperately launched the ball forward.
5 - Battling Bluebirds
Despite the excellent first half and plenty of decent chances in the second half, there's little denying that Cardiff skipper Marlon Pack gave City a big helping hand in the 75th minute.
His midfield lunge on Oliver Skipp to earn a second yellow card came just as the hosts had some momentum, five minutes after Joe Ralls had swept home a goal to halve the deficit.
The Bluebirds were fired up by Neil Harris at the break and once fit-again top scorer Kieffer Moore was introduced just before the hour mark, the game became a battle.
The 6ft 5ins tall Wales international only played a third of the game but won nine aerial duels, more than anyone else on the pitch. The leaders had to grind out their win in the end.
6 - Sorensen's situation
To emphasise the pressure that the Canaries were under, Jacob Sorensen was needed to make an absolutely crucial intervention in the 88th minute.
With that man Moore closing in on a cross from the left wing from Josh Murphy, the Dane was in the right place at the right time to head over his own crossbar and protect young keeper Daniel Barden.
The 22-year-old started his 17th successive league game at left-back and was again defensively sound, as well as reliable in possession. With Quintilla fit once his isolation period is completed and Dimitris Giannoulis seemingly on his way in from Greek side PAOK Thessaloniki, the defensive midfielder's admirable shift may soon be over.
Both will need to show sufficient defensive strength to take the place of a reliable player though, who has certainly played his part in driving City to the Championship summit.