City’s third 2-1 victory in the space of a week was the clearest sign yet that this is a bona fide promotion charge.
Still over half the season to go, but this felt big.
Reading were of course without two of their big names in Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite (Sky Sports were very keen to remind us), and four other fringe players I hadn’t heard of, but still they provided City with, all things considered, probably their biggest test so far.
Add into that mix 2000 of Berkshire’s finest, who succeeded in providing a spiky backdrop, and this had all the makings of being ‘one step too far’ as Daniel Farke still awaits the full return of his cavalry.
Still the bandwagon rolls on, clearing away all obstacles put before it with the minimum of fuss but also with a clinical edge that, one could argue, even usurps the rightly revered Class of 2019.
Two seasons ago, with Farkeball in its second season, the Canaries simply blew the field away with a swash and a buckle and an ability to outscore most. It was the closest anyone had got to replicating Kevin Keegan’s Toon ‘entertainers’ of the mid-90s but it was all achieved, quite brilliantly, without a particularly solid base.
Those shaky foundations were partly responsible for what followed in the Premier League.
But Farkeball 4.0 feels different. The pleasing passing rhythms are still there but are accompanied with an ability to dig in and be solid when we don’t have the ball, helped by the fact we don’t tend to overcommit when we do have it – a common trait of Farkeball 2.0.
It feels more measured and, as a result, more robust.
The flip side is the comparatively modest goal return, one that I have an inkling may just be about to change.
Among many significant facets of last night’s win was the double change made by Farke at half-time, with Kieran Dowell and Todd Cantwell replacing Marco Stiepermann and Josh Martin – both of whom had contributed successfully to the high press while also being guilty of coughing up possession too cheaply.
In addition to them adding the energy and hunger you’d expect of a pairing who’ve both had spells on the sidelines, the composure on the ball of the whole team went up several notches as a result of their presence.
Both are able technicians whose decision-making last night was on point, but, crucially, both are also capable of easing the goalscoring burden that currently rests firmly on the shoulders of Emi Buendia and Teemu Pukki.
Dowell’s first touch and eye for a pass formed the key elements of his CV when he arrived but no-one expected him to adapt so seamlessly to the heat of Championship battle after just eight days worth of training following his injury.
Cantwell too enhanced what had gone on before the break and his ability to look after the ball and operate in tight pockets played its part in a second-half showing as assured and accomplished as anything we’ve seen all season.
It’s great that Farke has options, but a fit and healthy front four of Cantwell, Dowell, Buendia and Pukki will surely become his go-to when the stakes are at their highest.
Emi’s 12 games this season have so far produced five goals and six assists, and allied to a voracious work rate has confirmed his unofficial status as the best player in the division. Right now, our biggest challenge is how to keep away the vultures in January; something that applies equally to the league’s best right-back.
Both Buendia and Max Aarons are at their pomp and Premier League recruitment teams will have their respective agents on speed-dial; a challenge for Stuart Webber that is right up there with his search for left-back cover.
But that’s for another day. For now, we should bask in the glow of a highly polished 95 minutes that doubled as a shot across the bows of the other 23.
Jason Tindall was a curious choice of Sky Sports pundit for the game but the Bournemouth manager’s very public close-up of what he’s up against made for interesting viewing; contorted expressions et al.
Reading felt hard done by. I think they should consider themselves lucky it was only 2-1.
Someone, somewhere is going to get a right walloping sometime soon.
Never Mind the Danger