City’s big chance to prove there is ‘one team that stands out’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s all about momentum for Norwich City now and two games that provide the opportunity to prove Brentford boss Thomas Frank was wrong, once and for all.
It was in late January when the Bees manager said “there isn't one team that stands out” as he discussed the promotion race following a 1-1 draw at Swansea in late January.
At the time the Swans and Watford were six points behind the leaders and Brentford another two points further back.
Today - with City having their fate in their own hands and knowing victory at Carrow Road against Bournemouth this evening will seal promotion - Swansea are 15 points adrift and Brentford are 17 behind Daniel Farke’s dominant team, with a game in hand.
There is the chance of the Canaries’ immediate Premier League return being confirmed at about 2.15pm but it seems unlikely that both the Swans and the Bees will drop points at home to Wycombe and Millwall respectively. I’d rather they didn’t.
Besides the fact that promotion would then clash with a national event of mourning beginning at 3pm, as respects are paid to the Duke of Edinburgh, it’s the kind of success that a team would much rather confirm on their own terms.
Let the chasers have their few hours of hope, although realistically it's Watford they are chasing anyway, then go and prove that there is “one team that stands out” in this division.
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That will not be easy, against a Bournemouth team buoyed by five consecutive wins to burst back into the play-off mix. City have had all week to prepare, which has come at a good time after signs of a few tired minds and legs during the second half of the 1-0 win at Derby last Saturday.
The Cherries were in action on Tuesday though, winning 2-1 at Huddersfield. City supporters won’t have been surprised to see – following the Terriers’ recent 7-0 embarrassment at Carrow Road – that both of Bournemouth’s goals were contributed to by defensive mistakes, which were ruthlessly exploited.
However, Asmir Begovic was needed for two important saves, Huddersfield were denied by the crossbar and edged the possession (52pc), pulling a goal back in the 76th minute with a header from a corner.
After that shaky second half at Derby, Jonathan Woodgate’s side will undoubtedly find themselves facing a Canaries team fully motivated to get the job done on their own terms, against another of the pre-season promotion favourites, a team that beat them 1-0 in September.
City have evolved since that day on the south coast though. Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia were left out after transfer window distractions, Ben Godfrey hadn’t been sold to Everton yet and started alongside Christoph Zimmermann, Grant Hanley was still injured, new signing Ben Gibson was on the bench and Xavi Quintilla was trying to establish himself at left-back.
With the positive winds at their back of 11 wins during an unbeaten run of 13 matches, the leaders are in the rare position of being in control of their fate today, without the need to worry about the inhibitive element of pressure or rivals’ results too much – knowing that promotion is almost certain, that much of the hard work has already been done.
Tonight’s match is about building for the Premier League and a key part of that will be securing the status, glory and confidence of being confirmed as Championship champions.
Pop the Cherries’ restored confidence and part one of the job will be complete and can also have a major bearing on part two.
Win and Watford are guaranteed to arrive in Norfolk on Tuesday night for the title decider sitting at least eight points behind the leaders. The Hornets have a derby at Luton to navigate this lunchtime.
Two wins and it’s done and dusted, job done. Promotion, title and club record points haul all in the bag – a tantalising proposition.
It would also confirm that Frank was wrong.
City have scored 65 goals, only Bournemouth (66) and Brentford (71) have scored more. The Canaries have conceded just 28 goals, only Watford (27) have conceded fewer. Combined that makes for the division’s best goal-difference of 37, five better than Watford’s.
Highest possession average? Norwich (58.7pc). Best pass success rate? Norwich (82.8pc). Most shots per game average? Norwich (15.8). Highest shots on target average? You guessed it, Norwich (5.2).
We’ve reached the end game, the time when champions prove why they are better than the rest. A place in Canaries history awaits if Farke’s team can just maintain the intensity for 180 minutes, for one last push towards glory and well-earned celebrations.