Robin Sainty: What a great time to be a Norwich City fan!
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
What an incredible three weeks. Six games, six wins, 13 goals scored, just two conceded and four clean sheets. Norwich City are on fire at the moment.
Despite all the pre-game bravado from fans about the result being of reduced importance because of City’s seven-point cushion, the reality is that we all knew that Wednesday night would be the acid test of just how good this team is, and the fact that, apart from a short spell in the first half, Brentford never looked like laying a glove on City spoke volumes.
City’s performance was a joy to watch, despite the best efforts of the Sky coverage director, who seemed to think that viewers would like to see anything other than what was actually happening on the pitch, and consequently treated us to lingering close-ups of players and managers and endless replays while the game was going on.
We also had to suffer Don Goodman, who has trotted out his obsession with a perceived lack of pace in City’s central defence with monotonous regularity whenever he’s covered their games this season, along with the equally fallacious suggestion that they’re poor at defending set-pieces, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Grant Hanley made the point in a recent podcast that he’s actually one of the quickest players at the club. Hanley hardly needs extra motivation, but every little helps.
While it's annoying that City didn’t convert more of their myriad chances, Wednesday was a tactical masterclass from Daniel Farke, which further emphasises that he is developing as much as some of his players.
Brentford are, apart from City, the best side in the league at turning defence into attack, but the measured pressing of City’s front three disrupted their passing from the back while the outstanding duo of Kenny McLean and Oliver Skipp showed great positional discipline to ensure that Mathias Jensen was never given time on the ball in areas where he could hurt City.
City’s full-backs were also less adventurous than usual until the game started to stretch later on and as a result Brentford produced only one cross of note from which Sergi Canos, who yet again disappointed against his former club, should have scored.
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However, Farke’s greatest achievement must be the cloning of McLean, because surely no one man could have popped up in so many places or covered as much ground as the Scot did on Wednesday night. He was magnificent, and although Emi Buendia, with some justification, will get most of the plaudits, City’s engine room of McLean and Skipp is absolutely central to their success, not just in terms of their sterling defensive work, but also in initiating attacks.
It’s ironic that a game that was billed as revolving around the battle between the Championship’s top two strikers, Teemu Pukki and Ivan Toney, should have ended up with neither of them making the scoresheet, but the game was won and lost in midfield where City slowly squeezed the life from Brentford who, despite a desperate late flurry, looked like a beaten side well before the end with misplaced passes abounding.
Perhaps Pukki was due an off day in front of goal after seven goals in the previous five games, and in fairness to Toney I suspect that he wasn’t 100pc fit after his recent ankle injury, but with his supply lines largely cut off he made little impact against City’s imperious central defensive pairing of Hanley and Ben Gibson.
With City closing in on another Championship title it’s inevitable that we are starting to see more and more comparisons between the team of 2018/19 and the current one.
For me it’s pretty straightforward: if I wanted a team to entertain me, I would go for the former, but if I needed one to play a game for my life it would be this season’s every time.