To the uninitiated, this may appear another case of Norwich just doing enough, and making tough work of a job that should have been comfortable.
And the uninitiated would be right… to a point.
But it ignores the fact that Daniel Farke was minus the services of ten players who have legitimate shouts for a first XI start. It also ignores the fact the preparation for this game was dominated by the Colney covid outbreak and that others, including Emi Buendia who played, are suffering from non-covid flu symptoms.
So I think we can forgive them for wobbling a bit late on when Cardiff, in search of a late equaliser, used the introduction of 8’4″ Kiefer Moore as a signal to try and recreate the Alamo.
It didn’t work and that City held firm and offered some sturdy protection to Daniel Barden was an outstanding all-round effort, and all on a day when those plucky little south coast Cherries lost at home to Luton.
The league table makes pleasant viewing right now, as does City’s points-per-game average; something to bear in mind a little further down the track if the current spike in postponements continues amidst the ongoing horror.
Aside from the winning of the three points there were several other smaller wins that will have pleased Team Farke immensely.
Jordan Hugill, the newly-appointed barber of Colney (he was responsible for Barden’s new look), produced his most effective 90 minutes in a City shirt when it was needed most.
It offered evidence that Farkeball can still live and breathe even without its Finnish fulcrum, and the flow and swagger of the opening 45 owed much to Hugill’s link-up play and ability to join in – something that hasn’t been obvious up until now.
While Hugill is not the type to complain or generally suffer from a lack of confidence, his best outing in yellow and green will have placated any lingering self-doubt around his ability to fit into this style of football.
All that was missing was a goal; one that was only denied him by an Alex Smithies save after a sweeping move that began with the ball at Barden’s feet.
Luckily Todd Cantwell was there to tap in the rebound; another who could argue he enjoyed one of his best ever performances in the yellow shirt.
We know he has the flicks and tricks and is technically one of the most proficient member of the squad. That’s a given, as is his penchant for being a tiny bit controversial and doing absolutely zilch to allay that notion, but now we should add ‘grafter’ to Todd’s list of qualities.
On a day when muscle and toil were needed to give the passing rhythms the chance to flourish, Dereham’s finest delivered, and in doing so offered Jacob Sorensen a level of support that has not always been there.
Yesterday afternoon must now be Cantwell’s benchmark, and it will not be lost on him or anyone watching how the boy wonder known as Harry Wilson was outshone, outbattled and outscored by City’s number 14.
But the heroism wasn’t just reserved for Hugill and Cantwell. It was sprinkled around with good performances popping up all over the place, starting with Barden on his full league debut.
The biggest compliment I can pay the lad is that I’m not sure too many tears would be shed if Stuart Webber’s quest to land us a back-up keeper proves fruitless. Early days of course, and a young keeper wouldn’t be a young keeper if he didn’t have the odd rick in him, but his calmness and maturity are quite something in one so inexperienced.
With Tim Krul only just coming out of isolation, I suspect Master Barden will be in goal on Wednesday night and the fact most of us would be cool with that speaks volumes; something helped by the fact he will have the two most dependable centre-backs in the Championship in front of him.
All of which adds up to a rosy picture, with pundits, experts and other notable voices talking of City’s quality, strength in depth and style being reasons why they are now in a position to squeeze the accelerator and open up a gap at the top of the league.
And therein lies the biggest threat to our promotion charge – complacency.
While the task will remain the same in the confines of Colney and the laser-guided focus will remain, it’s all too easy to expect the second half of the season to mirror the first as City overcome any hurdle placed before them.
But football’s not like that. And in this season unlike any other every win is that little bit more difficult to achieve compared to those earned in what’s now known as a ‘normal’ season.
Nothing should be taken for granted and that includes City winning games of football. There will be blips ahead and this won’t the straightforward coronation procession that many are preparing for.
Even though we are the best team in the league 😉