Whatever it takes, Norwich City can deliver
After producing one of their best displays of the season against high-flying Cardiff, the Canaries looked to continue their impressive run of form in the first of back-to-back away games against teams fighting for their Championship lives.
As we discovered when the two sides met at Carrow Road last month, position in the Championship table is not always necessarily reflected in a side’s contribution on the pitch. But for an excellent John Ruddy save in the dying seconds of that game, which led to City breaking upfield and Wes Hoolahan completing his hat-trick to put the result beyond doubt, Sheffield United could easily have left Carrow Road with a share of the spoils.
On Saturday, the Blades once again made it very difficult for Norwich and pushed them hard for each of the 94 minutes that were played.
It wasn’t a classic contest by any stretch of the imagination. The home side started brightest and shaded the opening exchanges, and they held the upper hand as the half-time whistle sounded after creating more than the Canaries in the final third of the pitch.
Norwich were much more effective in the second half, though, and while they never hit the same standard of impressive football that has propelled them to the lofty position they currently occupy in the table, they did crank up the quality of their attacking play and become more of an attacking threat.
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Genuine goalscoring chances were still few and far between, but City will be satisfied that they were able to move the ball about the pitch with more accuracy and purpose in the second period, as well as managing to impose their superiority on their opponents.
However, football is all about winning. And as any side that harbours hopes of success knows only too well, over the course of a long and testing season you’re going to have to prove that you’re good enough to win games in a variety of different ways.
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And this is where City have improved so much over the past 18 months or so.
If playing a neat, attractive passing game is what is required on a match day, we know Norwich have the capacity to pass teams to death, given the quality of players they possess. But the biggest difference between now and seasons gone by how they perform when a more workmanlike performance is called for.
Nowadays, Norwich have proved that they can find the right answers to get the job done. If it has to be a grind, City can grind it out. If it has to be physical, they can match fire with fire. And if patience is what is called for, they have demonstrated they possess ample discipline to wait for their opportunity. Underpinning it all is a nigh-on cast iron guarantee that every man will deliver 100 per cent effort at all times.
Saturday was a tough test, and it soon became apparent City were going to have to dig deep, but that is exactly what they did.
In its own way, it was an impressive performance. The result, though, was absolutely fantastic.
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – LEON BARNETT: John Ruddy was in top form and Andrew Crofts’ strong performance and brace of goals put him in the frame. But it’s centre-back Barnett, who has been brilliant all season, who gets my vote. The one blemish on his performance was allowing Ched Evans to turn and get in the shot that brought the Blades level, but apart from that he really didn’t put a foot wrong. He was as solid as a rock and regularly first to the ball in the air and on the ground.