Heaven of seven and dancing to the promotion beat – six things learned from City’s victory at Boro
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As promotion moves even closer for Norwich City, David Freezer looks at six lessons learned from the Championship leaders’ triumph at Middlesbrough.
1 – Seven is the magic number
Seven successive wins, to move seven points clear of third place with seven games remaining – the latest chapter in this incredible Norwich City story should really have starred Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.
Instead it was Christoph Zimmermann, Ben Godfrey and Onel Hernandez playing the starring roles, with the Cuban winger scoring – yep, you’ve guessed it – his seventh league goal of his exciting campaign.
It was also the seventh game on the spin that Daniel Farke had named the same starting XI, with the players in possession of those shirts desperate to continue at centre stage of this superb promotion push.
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It’s the first time a City team have won seven on the spin in the second tier since Nigel Worthington’s team of 2003-04 managed the feat on their way to the title.
The next target is a rather daunting 10 consecutive victories, managed by City’s champions of 1986 – who finished seven points clear!
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2 – A leader becoming a legend
Despite all the wonderful, free-flowing and technically impressive football played this season, it’s a towering centre-back whose image reflects the determined spirit of this City team.
Christoph Zimmermann took on the captain’s armband in January when Alex Tettey picked up an injury – and few Canaries fans would like to see it taken away from the passionate German now.
His goal-saving clearance in the 77th minute at the Riverside was the kind of moment that made you believe this City team are destined for promotion that little bit more.
Stewart Downing’s header had beaten Tim Krul but the big man launched himself at the ball like his life depended on it, earning a fourth clean sheet in nine games.
Grant Hanley of course was due to be the skipper but his season hasn’t gone to plan and Tettey has been on the fringes recently. So at this rate it’s Zimmermann who might need to practice his trophy-lifting skills soon.
3 – Big night for Ben on Teesside
As well as Zimmermann played, his defensive partner Ben Godfrey also deserves high praise.
The youngster had made an error in midweek which led to the England U20s losing in Portugal – but was clearly fired up for the Boro game. Well, he’s clearly fired up for every game actually.
He had made a slightly shaky start but showed his trademark determination in the 16th minute after a poor touch, bursting into his own box to beat Boro striker Britt Assombalonga to a loose ball. He put his head where it hurts to stop Ashley Fletcher shooting 11 minutes later and kept the attack alive ahead of Hernandez’s winner.
The 21-year-old also twice threw himself in the way of Jon Obi Mikel shots, the second in the sixth minute of injury-time. He may still be developing parts of his game as a centre-back but there is absolutely no doubting the desire that Godfrey has.
That spirit – and his passionate celebrations – are truly creating a fan favourite.
4 – Dancing his way to stardom
Much has been made of the gems the Canaries have unearthed for bargain prices but the reported £1.7million paid for Onel Hernandez is looking very shrewd as well.
Eight goals and nine assists from 35 games in all competitions is a very healthy return for a player clearly enjoying his football.
Injury-time equalisers at Birmingham on the opening day and during the 3-3 epic against Forest at Carrow Road on Boxing Day were certainly memorable but the Cuban winger’s goal at Boro was his best moment yet.
Dancing his way across the box before firing low into the bottom-left corner added to an evening of twisting and turning the home defence – including an awesome nutmeg of Ryan Shotton.
He picked out Teemu Pukki at the end of one of his runs in the first half, only for the striker’s shot to be well saved, and generally left Boro struggling to keep pace. He’s the type of player that makes football fun – and long may that continue.
5 – It’s time for Teemu to deliver
Teemu Pukki has clearly lost the magic touch, his fine start to the season falling apart at worrying speed...
Hold up – before you blow a fuse and rip up your Pink Un, take a look at the date, happy April Fool’s Day!
It doesn’t matter if Teemu Pukki doesn’t score again this season, the 25 goals he’s already managed have been absolutely pivotal for City this season. Much of his hard work is already done.
Yes, he’s six games without a goal for club and country and not taken chances that he would have gobbled up six weeks ago but it’s no surprise he looks a bit jaded having already played 47 matches for City and Finland, scoring 28.He’s still getting in good positions though and was twice denied well by Darren Randolph as his usually lethal touch evaded him. But would I drop him? No chance.
If Pukki doesn’t score again this season I’d be astounded. Perhaps it would be sensible to start giving Jordan Rhodes some more time from the bench though.
6 – No need for nerves any more
Sitting seven points clear of third place with seven games remaining really is a dream position to be in.
Clearly the job is not done but the nerves which have seen City players tighten up slightly in recent games can now start to ease.
This fully-fit and united squad, packed full of talent, now know they have the luxury of being able to afford two defeats and still be in the top two – so watch out QPR and Reading.
The opponents heading to Norfolk for City’s next two games have both endured frustrating seasons and few teams have managed to contain Farke’s side. But with an added element of freedom in the promotion race, someone is due a good hiding, for one of these fine performances to be matched by a deserved goal glut.
With Sheffield United at Preston and Leeds going to Birmingham in the 3pm games on Saturday, a chance to rev the engine awaits – amid non-stop roars of appreciation at Carrow Road.