Six things you might have missed after Norwich City's classy triumph over Cardiff
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After another victory kept Norwich City's progress on an upward trajectory, David Freezer takes a look at six things you might have missed after the Championship leaders' 2-0 home win over Cardiff.
1 - Learn from Leeds
Following Norwich City at the moment almost feels too good to be true.
Five wins on the spin, 12 victories and just one defeat in 16 games, sitting five points clear at the Championship summit after 20 matches and seven clear of third – it's a remarkably strong foundation to build upon.
In the past 12 Championship seasons, only one of the teams who were top at Christmas didn’t go on to automatic promotion: Leeds in 2018-19.
The later start to the campaign means we’re still a couple of games behind most seasons but on Christmas Day - after 23 games - Leeds were top, a point above eventual champions Norwich and six clear of third-placed West Brom.
At that point they were 10 better off than Sheffield United but an epic implosion saw the Blades eventually finish six points above them in second, followed by play-off defeat to Derby.
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- 10 'That's my dream' - Giannoulis hopes his style will boost City's promotion hopes
So 11 of the last 12 Christmas leaders may have gone up automatically, seven of them as champions, but Daniel Farke made clear after this win that there is no room for over-confidence.
It’s happened before, it can happen again.
2 - Another crucial save
For the third game in succession, Michael McGovern has validated why Farke and Stuart Webber had faith in him as competition for Tim Krul this season.
After great reactions to keep out an early Sam Gallagher header in the 2-1 win at Blackburn, he crucially tipped over a Michael Olise free-kick in injury-time during the 2-1 win at Reading.
This time it was an instinctive swipe keeping out a powerful close-range header from Cardiff centre-back Sean Morrison, two minutes before half-time, when City were still leading 1-0.
The life of a second-choice goalkeeper can be a relatively strange existence but the 36-year-old has proven that his reflexes are still sharp and why he is still involved at international level for Northern Ireland.
His distribution has been reasonably reliable too and although Tim Krul is likely to reclaim the gloves once he’s happy his thigh is back to 100 per cent, if the Champagne corks are being popped in a few months’ time then McGovern’s team-mates will be making sure he’s at the heart of those celebrations.
3 - Papa Pukki
Teemu Pukki’s availability for Saturday’s game was in doubt for a short while, with his wife going into labour on Friday.
Thankfully all went well and the King of Finland now has another princess but he was denied the opportunity to celebrate on the pitch, perhaps being a bit too eager to cradle the imaginary baby at Carrow Road.
The striker has been in red hot form recently, scoring 11 goals in his last 15 games for club and country, but on this occasion that magic feeling eluded him.
As coaches will tell you though, it’s when the chances stop coming that you need to be worried, and Pukki’s movement and work rate kept Cardiff’s nerves on edge throughout.
Todd Cantwell provided three good chances but the radar was a little off, with a touch of tiredness perhaps contributing after the exertions of the previous day, missing the team’s final training session.
You sense it won’t be long before the Pukki party kicks off again though.
4 - Magnificent McLean
Emi Buendia and Cantwell have of course received much praise for their outstanding performances but Kenny McLean also deserves recognition.
The Scotland midfielder seems to be something of an acquired taste among some fans, despite his head coach making clear how highly he values the assets he brings to the City squad.
Initially Farke feared a long-term knee injury for the 28-year-old last month but thankfully it turned out to be just four games. After a good cameo helped wrestle back control in the final 25 minutes at Blackburn, McLean has completed full games during the wins over Reading and Cardiff.
Alongside Oliver Skipp he’s provided an energetic and robust midfield base to allow attacking play to flourish but his use of the ball was also excellent on Saturday and he was involved in the build-up to both goals, claiming his first assist of the season for Buendia’s opener.
Once again it’s the aerial battle where he can make a difference though, his determination seeing him win nine aerial duels against Cardiff, more than anyone else on the pitch.
5 - An awful tackle
I try not to lay into referees too often, they have an extremely tough job, but how Harry Wilson wasn’t sent off in injury-time by Tim Robinson is absolutely beyond me.
Cardiff had grown progressively angrier as it became clear that they were being outclassed in the second half, very nearly provoking a reaction from Emi Buendia after one elbow to the head.
Yet the game was drifting to a close when the Liverpool loanee launched into a totally unnecessary tackle on Cantwell in front of the dugouts. He may have taken a bit of the ball but it was very much a dangerous tackle that could have caused injury, a clear red card.
Perhaps the Wales international just wanted a Christmas suspension, sick of swinging balls into the box constantly rather than trying to play football on the ground?
But I was pleased to see a contrite evaluation from Bluebirds boss Neil Harris when he acknowledged “it’s for us to aspire to be at their quality”.
6 - The next gear?
All City fans have been impressed with how well their team have been doing but how many times has it been said that Farke’s players have more gears to move through?
Well, the statistics back that up, giving hope that there is even more to come from this squad – which has already equalled the best start to a second-tier season in the club’s history (level with 1971-72), in spite of an injury crisis.
The Canaries have had the most shots (325) and second-most shots on target in the division (103) but four teams have scored more goals.
Scoring 29 from 325 shots works out to a conversion rate of 8.9 per cent, which perhaps surprisingly is better than just seven of their Championship rivals so far.
That is not meant as a criticism, at all. They’ve also had the most shots blocked (111), with so many opponents setting up defensively against them.
It does however hint, after another game where the margin of victory should have been greater, that there is still room for improvement.
That this impressive first 20 games can be improved upon? That’s not a negative but a reason for huge encouragement that there’s even more to come from a table-topping squad building confidence with every passing game.