Six things you might have missed following City's draw with Blackburn
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Norwich City's promotion prospects strengthen despite their winning run coming to an end, David Freezer takes a look at six key talking points following a 1-1 home draw with Blackburn Rovers.
1 – Delaying the inevitable
There was disappointment about the leaders being held to a 1-1 draw by a team sat 15th and with just one win in 11, of course, but a quick glance at the table after Swansea’s defeat was enough to quickly shake that off.
To win nine and draw one of 10 games is hugely impressive and while Blackburn may have earned respect with an adventurous spirit and energetic press, they were still fortunate to take a point away from Carrow Road.
The post and the crossbar came to the rescue in the first half, Thomas Kaminski made some fine saves and captain Darragh Lenihan some heroic blocks.
This was by no means a slump. It was a day when a top team were thwarted by hard working opposition. It happens, just ask Pep Guardiola.
The champagne may not be on ice yet but it can at least be put in the fridge.
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2 – Remarkable position
We now know that City mathematically cannot finish lower than seventh place, as the pursuit of Daniel Farke’s repeated target of 90 points for promotion continues.
Among the adjusted calculations as every game passes, it shouldn’t be forgotten just how much of an achievement that already is.
It’s clear that with 83 points already in the bag a play-off place is already certain but in the past 10 Championship seasons, of the 30 teams relegated from the Premier League, 17 didn’t even make it into the top six. Two of them were relegated.
Just two have gone up automatically, Burnley and Newcastle as champions in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and while the remaining 11 did make the play-offs just five of them went up.
Shaking off the relegation hangover, even with parachute payments to soften the blow, really is not easy – yet City are in firm control of the title race.
3 – Intelligent enforcer
Tim Krul, Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson have rightly received much praise for City’s defensive strength. Oliver Skipp showed yet again what he has brought to the party on Saturday though, as an unselfish defensive midfielder.
The 20-year-old Tottenham loanee made more successful tackles (seven) than any player on the pitch and was determined to disrupt Rovers’ attacking ambition.
Tyrhys Dolan threatened to break on the right in the first half but Skipp caught the winger, forced him to turn backwards and then won a throw with his tackle.
Harvey Elliott thought he could charge into the City half in the 65th minute, but there was Skipp to rob him. Ten minutes later, after a wayward Krul kick, he was tackling Joe Rothwell.
His reading of the game is so impressive. Let’s just hope that England U21 action doesn’t break Skipp or Max Aarons’ run of starting all 38 league game so far this season.
4 – Strong competition
Kieran Dowell may have taken much of the attention this week, particularly in the unfortunate injury absence of Lukas Rupp, but Saturday also brought the return of Marco Stiepermann.
It was the German that Farke turned to in place of the tiring Dowell in the 67th minute, rather than Mario Vrancic, with Stiepermann making his first City appearance in over three months.
Having been taken down by an energy-sapping virus which took a while to fully diagnose, it can’t have been an easy time for the 2019 title winner.
Understandably there were some rusty touches but the 30-year-old also twice tested keeper Kaminski and also teed up an Emi Buendia chance and crucially blocked a Rothwell shot in injury-time.
With Rupp not expected to be out for long and Dowell finding some form, the competition for that central attacking midfield role is really heating up.
5 – The final push
The international break brings a welcome opportunity to draw breath and plan the final part of the return journey to the Premier League for the Canaries, after a hectic 36 days.
As recently as Saturday, February 13 the pain of the defeat at Swansea was still raw and Brentford had claimed top spot.
Ten games and nine wins later, taking 28 points from a possible 30, scoring 21 and conceding just four, and an eight-point lead is feeling very comfortable indeed.
Title considerations can wait but it’s likely that six points will not be enough to seal promotion, nine just to be sure, with a 14-point gap to Swansea in third and 15 to Brentford in fourth.
Just one of the past five weeks didn’t feature a midweek game but City kept their foot on the accelerator and side-stepped every banana skin in their path expertly.
6 - As one door closes...
With the pursuit of one club record finished, the chase of another begins.
The crop of 2020-21 became the first Canaries squad to ever win nine consecutive games in all competitions when they won at Forest in midweek – but missed out on equalling the club record of 10 league wins on the spin, from 1985-86.
This is City’s 39th season in the second tier but only on eight previous occasions has an unbeaten league run of 10 games or more been achieved – with this the fourth during Farke’s reign.
Streaks of 12 games unbeaten and 14 were part of the success of 2018-19 and City also went 10 undefeated earlier this season, in October and November.
The target is 18, which would mean remaining unbeaten for the rest of the campaign, to match the club record for the second tier that was achieved by the title winners of 1986.