City may not yet be the fully accomplished and developed Championship winning side, but they have every right to be up there – they just aren’t from Yorkshire (but that’s just geography).
Maybe we’re ruining that Yorkshire dream of Sheffield United and Leeds United finally making a return to the top flight, and maybe we will continue to be the yo-yo team because we simply can’t get enough of the thrill of the Championship (unless you plan to ‘do a Leicester’ in the Premier League).
Or maybe it was the coverage of Sky’s build up before Leeds United vs Sheffield United, where fans of both teams claimed they belonged back in the top flight in comparison to City, whose fans and management alike are just enjoying the ride.
‘Look at all those foreign imports. Are we Bundesliga now? (Good luck after Brexit)’
Although Wolves might have blown the league away last season, their success was often mentioned alongside money.
City took a different approach – success because of quality with plenty of risks in the eyes of fans. Yet, we have a team full of players playing for themselves and for the team – players consistently forcing returnees out of the team because they want to prove themselves.
And how many times do the media and general football fans love to praise teams, who have beaten the big spenders?
By picking ‘youngster, rejects and experienced heads’, we have done the one thing fans and players alike want in a game spoilt by money. All for a very modest outlay in the grand scheme of the Championship.
Our side may never have come to fruition without more than a little faith. Tim Krul, Mo Leitner and Tom Trybull all looked to have plateaued, even at their respective ages, with the latter two having failed to kick on despite being hyped up in their youth. Marco Stiepermann just looked like an odd addition and Teemu Pukki’s bench-warming skills for Jordan Rhodes were simply terrible.
But by giving these players a chance (perhaps, even a second, third, or fourth chance), we’ve been rewarded.
Even before Daniel Farke’s arrival, Norwich were at the forefront of supporting English talent, whether that be a British/Irish managers or players – yet, the change of regime prompted criticism.
The foreign imports brought in have been a revelation though – they’ve appreciated British values, they’re bringing the passion they have for the game to Carrow Road and we’re repaying them by producing a Dortmund-esque display in the Barclay after every game.
We’re addicted to videos of Farke orchestrating the Barclay at the full-time whistle and sights of arms going aloft. Opposition fans can only imagine such relationship until they get to experience similar.
And some of our German additions are benefitting our English ones.
Maturity reigns from a player who joined us from the fourth-tier of German football and was studying at university in case football didn’t work out.
Having been benched for the first six games of this season, he’s had to be patient but when given a chance, Zimmermann has grabbed the nail and hammered down his place in the starting line-up – only missing one game since.
And when Timm Klose also faced time on the physio table, Zimmermann took the captaincy and responsibility for a back-line with the average age of around 21 years old, with Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons first shots at first-team football coming in the Championship.
Similarly, Ben Godfrey seized his chance and remains the first choice in Farke’s thoughts and we now have Timm Klose and Grant Hanley, two extremely experienced centre-backs, missing out. As a result, we’re now looking at international call ups for three of the back-line.
Additionally, Zimmermann adds protection to Tim Krul – having seen him spill a shot, he now follows the shot through, guarding it until our goalkeeper has it under control.
Farke has identified elements of Bundesliga football that the English game can embrace and benefit from and has found a way to compliment it with the English players we have in order to improve their game.
‘They’re the worst team to visit the New York Stadium’
When Farke was interviewed post victory, he named the 2-1 victory against a relegation-embattled in Rotherham United as his proudest moment.
We knew possession and a fluidity would be next to impossible against a side, whose manager had also asked them to play their absolute heart out on the pitch against his boyhood team.
It seemed to be something fans of Saturday’s hosts neglected when expecting Barcelona to pitch up at the New York Stadium.
League position does not matter in physical games.
We knew our hosts would dominate the physical side of the game. We had no chance in winning aerial duels against the second highest rated team for aerial duels won in the Championship with 54.4% – we’ve won the second fewest with just 17.6%.
It would be easy to play a fit Alex Tettey given his physicality but instead Tom Trybull (who had a pass success rate of 86% on Saturday), shielded the ball from the much bulkier and physical players to retain possession until he picked out a pass to spark an attack.
And whilst Emi Buendia is prone to criticism and opposition fans only see him as the typical playmaker who falls over – he’s actually City’s best defensive player statistically (via Whoscored), having countlessly lost the ball, chased, pestered and tackled.
He encountered the same criticism following the Sheffield United game in January, who couldn’t silence the feisty Argentinian so stopped him bypassing all together.
Either way, City turned it up a gear and found a way to play their football in a game they were not allowed to play – take away the fouls Miller fans may argue about and time management, because who’s heard of substitutes before the 90th minute anyway, City still found a way to play with a quality only promotion contenders can possess.
‘Lucky. Dirty. Tinpot. Matched’
City are lucky but not in the way they mean or in the way one game will prove.
Stuart Webber and Farke have made the complete Championship team and more – despite there being plenty still to learn.
City have not gone to every ground in the division and wowed fans – we’ve had our slip ups at the beginning of the season and during Christmas but came out unscathed. But neither Sheffield United and Leeds can claim they’ve wowed in every game, with both also slipping up, yet they remain favoured.
And how many times have we heard on the radio or Twitter that a real Championship winning team grinds out results, even if they’re not on top?
14 of our victories this season came from a margin of one goal – some justified, some lucky, but without those 42 points, we’d be sitting in 22nd (currently held by Rotherham).
Without adjusting, City would never be a Championship team worthy of promotion – we spent the beginning of the season saying: “Farkeball will never work in the Championship, it will be a dream in the Premier League but we have to get there first.”
After grinding out one of those 1-0 away victories against Queens Park Rangers, fans and commentators flooded online with the same summary – we played ugly, we played their way and won.
Farke’s side have proven countless times that if possession-based football is not going to flourish, then we have to adapt and quickly. We cannot be a one-trick pony and we cannot dwell.
While opposition fans will never see the quality City fans see on a regular basis and potentially criticise because of their own understandable bias for their team – we get to appreciate the little things, the backheels and flicks by Buendia, and the calmness of Zimmermann to repel hopeful attackers.
Against Bristol City, at 1-0 down, I was drooling at the steady stream of balls for Onel Hernandez to run onto, knowing he’d find cross at the end of it. I was living for the little one-twos on the wings and Zimmermann completely tricking a red shirt in the defensive third – and all before we looked comfortable. All before City turned it up a gear and came alive.
It’s a strange thing to admit. It was probably stranger to witness – after all, I was sat in the South Stand in full view of Bristol City fans.
I accept we may fall over sometimes physical opponents, I also don’t want my team to gain the advantage that way but I ignore it or murmur under my breath at Marco Stiepermann, who maybe has potential to hold off opponents to continue a promising attack rather easier than 5ft 7in Buendia.
When I take that out of the game, Norwich are top of the league for a reason. Not based on one game – not based on a game that would never be their style. But on a full season of quality, opposition fans can only dream of.
If you can smile, chuckle and laugh at the little flicks of quality and enjoy the beautiful game of football, you are winning.
So yes, Norwich City are lucky.
Lucky to be part of a team that is shaping up to be a true Championship promotion-contending team with a whole lot of heart.
It’s time for the final hurdle and to keep the rest of the league wondering how.