New boots, record breakers and a great opportunity – six things from the latest chapter of City’s epic story
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As Norwich City close on a return to the Premier League, David Freezer looks at six key issues following the Canaries’ 2-2 draw at Stoke on Easter Monday.
1 – Fire in the heart, ice in the heads?
Fire in the heart, ice in the head, just like Daniel Farke demands, eh, City fans?!
It’s one of the Canaries’ head coach’s favourite phrases and we all kept our cool in the aftermath of a fourth draw on the spin after the final whistle at Stoke, didn’t we?!
No, unfortunately for some the roller-coaster ride of emotions was a bit too much to handle, with Leeds having the chance to well and truly pile the pressure on the leaders if they won the day’s late kick-off, with social media particularly fraught.
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Sheffield United had well and truly kept up their end of the bargain with a 3-0 win at Hull and after City’s 2-2 draw in the Potteries it left the potential for Leeds to also draw within three points with a win at Brentford – but they slumped to a second shock loss on the spin instead.
All of a sudden that worry and woe from full-time was transformed into joy as a return to the Premier League moved to within touching distance, with just a point needed to seal the deal.
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2 – Canos is finally a City star
Plenty of Canaries fans felt Sergi Canos was rather harshly treated during Alex Neil’s time in charge – but the Spaniard well and truly came through for his old club on Easter Monday.
Still only 22, the winger has proved his Championship ability for Brentford since leaving Norwich in January of 2017.
He had been brought in from Liverpool for around £2.5million just six months earlier but only got six chances to impress for the first team before being sold for a similar fee to his former loan club.
He has 13 goals and 10 assists to his name for the Bees from 89 games since leaving Norwich but came up with one of each at a superb time for the Canaries, leaving Leeds crestfallen after seeing their automatic promotion hopes take a major blow.
With City now needing just a point to ensure they’re up, Canos may well fancy a night out in the fine city – as he certainly wouldn’t have to pay for a drink all night.
3 – Pukki goal was still important
In amongst the maelstrom of a dramatic day in the race for automatic promotion race, it could easily be overlooked that Teemu Pukki kept his superb goal-scoring season rolling on.
The Finn nodded in a fine chip into the box from substitute Mario Vrancic to score his 29th goal of the campaign, his 28th in the league to keep him on course for the golden boot, with Villa’s Tammy Abraham missing their 1-0 home win over Millwall through injury and on 25 goals.
While it was ultimately enough to ensure a point on the day, it also set a record.
Farke’s squad are now the first to score 89 goals in a second tier season in the club’s history, edging ahead of the class of 2014-15.
At a personal level Pukki is one short of Percy Varco’s 29 and three off Ralph Hunt’s City record of 31 league goals in a season – with only two players having scored more in a second tier season in the last 20 years as well now, across the division’s teams.
4 – Onel may need some new boots
Onel Hernandez is a very unpredictable player, it’s part of his threat.
Opposition defenders don’t know what to do with the Argos loving Cuban at times – but equally, it seems like the winger isn’t quite sure what’s going to happen next when he tries to dance his way into the opposition box.
The instinctive control and fine finish for City’s opener at Stoke were excellent, putting too much on the shot for Jack Butland to keep the ball out.
Yet too often he seemed like he needed better studs in his boots, looking rather like Bambi on ice at times, none more so than when he made the wrong decision to try and beat two men rather than clear his lines, instead just giving possession away. To be fair, it was a cracking finish from Tom Edwards, but an opportunity he should not have been afforded.
It was an eighth league goal though and when you add 10 assists to that total it’s clear Hernandez has been a key player for the leaders.
5 – Vrancic is deserving of a start
It was unfortunate for Mario Vrancic that his crucial free-kick on Friday hadn’t earned him a start at Stoke, but the midfielder again reminded City fans of his quality.
The Bosnia & Herzegovina international replaced the injured Tom Trybull in the 55th minute and injected a great deal of urgency and attacking impetus to City’s game, with a fine assist for Pukki’s goal.
The 29-year-old’s vision to spot the striker’s run across Ashley Williams allowed him to plant the ball on the Championship top scorer’s head at close range – and the Finn took care of business.
The former Paderborn man has eight goals and eight assists from 32 league starts this season but just 12 of those have been starts, due to injury interruptions.
No longer is this the man who couldn’t be trusted to tackle, this is a midfielder with a point to prove and a desire to remain a key player for City. Few in the squad can be as deserving of a start as Vrancic at the moment.
6 – Chance to finish on a high note
Okay, the football gods may have smiled on City with the way events unfolded on Easter Monday – but they’ve earned some luck.
Sheffield United have been superbly consistent and well organised but it’s only Leeds – and Aston Villa recently – who have been able to match the Canaries for class and style of play on the pitch.
With Leeds bottling their chance of going up in the top two, it would be a real shame to see Norwich not win the title from the great position they have put themselves in.
Farke picked his players up from the turf looking almost annoyed that they were so downhearted with their point at Stoke, but circumstances may well breathe fresh life into his tired players for one last push, with Carrow Road roaring them on against Blackburn on Saturday.
Elliott Bennett, Harrison Reed and Co will arrive with the wind of four wins on the spin at their back, so City will need to dig deep to make sure they get what they deserve: the title.