Paddy’s Pointers: Five observations from Norwich City’s stirring 1-0 Championship win at Middlesbrough
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Our Norwich City correspondent Paddy Davitt delivers his verdict from Middlesbrough
1. Thou shalt not pass - Daniel Farke labelled this fifth consecutive Championship shut out ‘special’ and ‘extraordinary’. The superlatives are fast running out to comprehend how the same set of players, with the addition of fit-again Timm Klose and the odd cameo from summer signing Grant Hanley, can veer from leaking so embarrassingly at places like Aston Villa and Millwall to the current defensive incarnation.
City were simply outstanding against a Middlesbrough forward line assembled at great cost and with high expectations. Angus Gunn had to acrobatically tip over a late free kick. Britt Assombalonga planted a free header at the Manchester City keeper late on but in the main another ring of steel was erected around City’s number one. The willingness to throw bodies in the line of fire is a testament to a remarkable transformation engineered by Farke and his coaching brains.
2. History makers? - Amateur statisticians will now be thumbing through the record books, after this latest masterclass at Middlesbrough. The numbers are truly epic. 468 minutes and counting (not including time added on) since Millwall were the last team to score a Championship goal against Norwich City. That is nearly eight hours of football underpinning five consecutive league clean sheets.
Should that feat be unique in the rich tapestry of the football club it is something Farke and his re-modelled squad can cherish. These are strange times for followers of the Canaries, fed a diet of defensive calamity for the most part last season.
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3. Savour Cameron Jerome - He might not possess the star quality of Nelson Oliveira, but in this counter-attacking strategy that is bringing such reward he is a vital component. Jerome could and should have opened his account for the Championship season in the second half when he latched onto James Maddison’s reverse ball but the shot lacked conviction.
That is a regular criticism, despite notching 36 league goals at this level in his past two full campaigns. But the manner he bullied a £25m-rated centre back in Ben Gibson and, on occasion, occupied the whole Boro backline with his industry and willingness to run the channels underlined again his residual value to the cause. Judge him not solely on his goal ratio.
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4. James Maddison. The apprentice learns fast - When Maddison and Wes Hoolahan were cutting a swathe through Swindon on League Cup duty earlier this season it was a tantalising glimpse into the future. But few would have thought Maddison could ease the likes of Hoolahan, Steven Naismith or Mario Vrancic out of that creative central midfield role in the Championship in the continued injury absence of Alex Pritchard.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Maddison is rapidly becoming indispensible. His absence was acutely felt against Bristol City and his return at the Riverside was capped by a brilliantly instinctive finish. It was the goal of a young man who has boundless belief in his own ability. To conceive and then execute with such accuracy suggests as long as Maddison can handle the fatigue and the workload he must be allowed the stage to strut.
5. Josh Murphy. A warning - Farke stopped short of outlining the specific reason why Murphy was a notable omission in a squad ravaged by injury. But there was enough in the tone and the carefully chosen soundbites, as he sought to deflect the post-match question, to detect Murphy has fallen foul of his head coach in recent days. The barbed comments regarding young players who must keep feet firmly planted and continue to work hard may have been delivered in the context of Maddison’s wonder strike, but it was clear they also applied to the absent wide player.
Farke may opt to elaborate further ahead of the trip to Reading. Or not. One thing is clear, Murphy has some making up to do to his head coach. Being on the outside of a team threatening to develop at great speed is no place to be.