Six things you might have missed after Norwich City's battle with Boro

Mario Vrancic of Norwich in action during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
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Mario Vrancic couldn't convert this early chance during Norwich City's home draw with Boro - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Following a frustrating 0-0 home draw with Middlesbrough, our chief Norwich City reporter David Freezer assesses the state of play for the Championship leaders with 20 games remaining.

1 - Carrow Road rarity 

It all could have been so different. In just the seventh minute Mario Vrancic had slalomed his way into the box and looked poised to throw Neil Warnock’s gameplan out of the window almost immediately. 

Paddy McNair made a last-ditch attempt at a block and Vrancic snatched at the opportunity after a slightly heavy touch, dragging his shot wide of the left-hand post.

The midfielder knew it was a big chance blown, slapping the turf in frustration and looking annoyed with himself. 

City failed to register a shot on target in a home league game for the first time during Daniel Farke’s reign. 

In total, since Farke took charge in 2017, City have failed to get a shot on target in a league game in just three matches, all of them away from home and two of them in the Premier League. That’s a total of 156 matches, 79 of which were at home. 

Jonathan Howson of Middlesbrough and Ben Gibson of Norwich at the end of the Sky Bet Championship ma

City defender Ben Gibson speaks to former Boro team-mate Jonny Howson at full-time - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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2 - Insider knowledge 

That early chance was the first of several attacks started by Grant Hanley, with Boro clearly having done their homework. 

Ben Gibson averages the most passes per game (77) in the City squad and the most in the division as a whole. As a Boro boy and academy product, who was training with his former club last year when out of favour at Burnley, they knew all about his ability. 

As part of Warnock’s man-marking approach it meant striker Yanic Bolasie was never far away from Gibson, who was restricted to 62 passes, with City skipper Hanley taking on the role of stepping into midfield (88 passes) to try and help build attacks from the back. 

The Scot’s display earned a place in the EFL Team of the Week and some luck, with Jonny Howson curling over tamely after Hanley had misjudged a pass in the 86th minute. 

Middlesbrough Manager Neil Warnock during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich
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Neil Warnock - still going strong at 72 years old - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

3 – Warnock's response 

A fourth clean sheet in five league games at least ensured the immediate pain of Emi Buendia being sent off midway through the second half wasn’t too drastic. 

City still sit four points clear at the Championship summit and have only lost two of their last 22 league matches, as Warnock extracted the response he wanted after a “week from hell”. 

With former Canaries favourite Howson a driving force in the middle the visitors brought an end to a six-game losing streak against Norwich which started at Wembley in 2015. 

They still haven’t scored against City properly since a 4-0 triumph at the Riverside in November 2014 though, as their 1-0 win in the reverse fixture at the end of that season came courtesy of Alex Tettey heading in an own goal from a corner. 

Patrick Roberts would no doubt have been desperate to come on and try to change that but Warnock left the former Canaries loanee on the bench. 

Emiliano Buendia of Norwich reacts after being sent off by Referee Keith Stroud during the Sky Bet C

The reality of being sent off sinks in for Emi Buendia - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

4 – Incredibly harsh 

And so to that dismissal, as Buendia picked up a fourth red card of his City career. Only Darel Russell has picked up more, with seven in his 271 appearances. 

There’s no debate about Buendia's first yellow but for the second to bring a red card and a two-game ban, due it being his second red of the season, just feels unbelievably harsh. 

He clearly should not have been sliding in but pulled out of the challenge and made minimal contact with George Saville, who did all he could to ensure Keith Stroud showed a second yellow. 

That was only after one of Warnock’s coaches had yelled “stay down, Sav” as the visitors smelt blood in the water. 

Sportsmanship? That ship has long since sailed. Behind closed doors it's increasingly a case of who can scream the loudest and roll around the most – without fans to tell players what they think of their amateur dramatics.  

Tim Krul of Norwich collects the ball safely during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, N

Tim Krul hasn't conceded in almost 11 hours of Championship action - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

5 – Defensive strength 

Despite City being down to 10 men in the 67th minute and Boro managing to turn the game into a scrap, Tim Krul had another home game without being seriously tested – certainly in comparison to his busy shift during the FA Cup loss at Barnsley. 

The Holland international still hasn’t conceded a Championship goal since October, in his last seven league appearances. 

That includes 40 minutes at Stoke in November before limping off with the thigh injury which would keep him out for nine games but in total, going back to the last league goal conceded in Bristol, it’s a total of 655 minutes. 

A ninth clean sheet leaves City needing another 11 in the final 20 games just to level the club record of 20, achieved by the Division Two promotion winners of 1974-75. 

Overall it’s an impressive 21 conceded in 26 games, which is 13 fewer than at the same stage of the 2018-19 title success – although 35 scored is also 13 fewer than Farke’s eventual champions had as well. 

Onel Hernandez of Norwich is fouled by Jonathan Howson of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Champions

Boro midfielder was booked for taking out a charging Onel Hernandez - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

6 – Who steps up? 

The big question ahead of this week’s trips to Millwall and Swansea is who can fill the Emi Buendia-shaped hole in City’s team? 

Onel Hernandez and Przemek Placheta appear to be the chief candidates, although Lukas Rupp and Kieran Dowell could be in the mix, given that Buendia isn’t a traditional winger who attacks the bye-line. 

It was Placheta coming on for Vrancic after Buendia’s departure and Hernandez joined him in place of Cantwell in the 76th minute. Placheta looked the liveliest, linking with Dimitris Giannoulis a few times and lashing one shot across the face of goal. 

Hernandez is a proven performer however and has had a few weeks of being back to full fitness, being cynically taken out by Howson in the 90th minute after skinning Djed Spence on halfway, earning the Boro man a late booking. 

Teemu Pukki has a mini dry spell to try and finish this week, after a sixth game without a goal from open play, and the Cuban’s established understanding with the Finn may just weigh in his favour.  

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