Robin Sainty: Why I can’t quite bring myself to celebrate Norwich City’s promotion... yet
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
I really have no idea how I feel at the moment.
First it was the deflation of Monday afternoon as City came out with a single point from a game that they initially appeared to be cruising only to find themselves pegged back and under pressure before regaining and surrendering the lead within three frantic minutes.
Then came the finale that saw the yellow wave camped in Stoke’s penalty area for once not produce the winner that the away end were desperately trying to suck into Jack Butland’s net. And at the end we all felt pretty miserable, not because the side had played poorly but because we all felt the pressure of Sheffield United’s win at Hull and the potential for Leeds to also close the gap.
Two hours later that had all changed as Leeds lost their ninth game out of the last 20 and City’s promotion was all but confirmed – but that’s what’s so strange.
In my head I know that a side that is unbeaten in the last 12 games and lost only once in 2019 is unlikely to lose two in a row, while the prospect of a broken Leeds, who have fallen at every major hurdle since Christmas, winning both of their remaining games and making up a goal difference of 10 is in the realm of fantasy, but as a football fan I can’t yet bring myself to celebrate, and the wait for today’s game has seemed an endless one.
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What makes it so excruciating is the fact that I love this group with a passion that I never quite felt for the sides of Paul Lambert and Alex Neil. The flair with which they have played this season has made them an absolute joy to watch, and even if it has resulted in silly goals being conceded through over-ambition, as was the case at Stoke, I willingly accept that for all the times City have broken exhilaratingly from their own box this season.
I can honestly say that I don’t remember a single game this term when the players could be accused of not giving 100pc effort and that was again the case on Monday. Watching Ben Godfrey sprint back from the edge of Stoke’s six-yard box to dispossess Benik Afobe on the edge of his own in the closing minutes having conceded a 20-yard head start was the perfect illustration of the commitment that is being shown by City players game after game.
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As Iwan Roberts pointed out on BBC Five Live on Monday evening, the Championship is an unrelenting test of endurance and it’s not surprising that fatigue is starting to creep in, but whereas Leeds appear to have succumbed to it, City’s youngsters continue to drive on. They are truly remarkable and deserve to be lauded to the rafters this evening.
And it’s not just the players. Daniel Farke has consistently struck exactly the right tone in interviews and he did it again on Monday. I cannot recall a single situation during his tenure when he has been overtly critical of any single City player. Any acknowledgement of below-par performance is always expressed in general terms and no individual is ever hung out to dry, an approach that has reaped rich rewards.
The players know that he has their backs and that is a huge contributory factor to them playing the game without fear. Tim Krul is a classic example. After a faltering start to the season during which he was never criticised by Farke, he has grown in stature game by game and on Saturday his faultless handling, excellent judgment and cheerleading abilities contributed massively.
We talk a lot about the unity amongst the players but having a head coach with whom they can share a mutual trust that makes them prepared to run through brick walls for him is an essential part of the equation.