With every fixture, the nerves are increasing, and the prize is becoming visible, for Norwich City, this opening half of the season has been the stuff of dreams.
Built from a backdrop of impossibility, Norwich has reached the halfway stage of the season with the potential of sitting top of the tree at Christmas, depending on whether Leeds can overcome Aston Villa on Sunday. That lack of expectation has allowed Norwich supporters to watch in disbelief as they continuously rise to the hurdles placed in front of them.
The prospect of festive fixtures against Nottingham Forest and Derby County placed a greater emphasis on the need to return to Norfolk with maximum points.
Blackburn was not a simple proposition, that said.
Prior to this fixture, only Sheffield United had left Ewood Park as victors in the last 15 months. Tony Mowbray has made Rovers home a fortress, and they presented a graphic illustration of why it is such a task to beat them.
Blackburn presented Norwich with an alternate set of challenges that required negotiating.
They played with eagerness, attempting to move the ball from the defensive phase to the offensive phase with speed through a direct style of pass. Danny Graham acted as their pivot, whilst Adam Armstrong and Harrison Reed acted as the busy operators, looking to stretch the play beyond Graham but also aide with his build-up play.
Bradley Dack is the superstar, the man responsible for producing moments of magic.
A physically adept and organised side, this was always going to be a test of Norwich’s patience coupled with whether they possessed the quality to take any opportunities that arrived their way.
Adversity isn’t something Norwich have been forced to endure all too often in the opening 23 fixtures. However, they have had to face a range of differing approaches attempting to halt their rhythm. Nobody has been as effective as Blackburn in stifling the amount of possession Norwich have had.
In the early stages, the visitors were responsible for monopolising possession.
Their physicality prevented Norwich from getting a foothold in this fixture, the first half was devoid of quality and injuries to key operators Emi Buendia and Moritz Leitner were, without doubt, the headlines. Supporters will await the outcome of their respective diagnosis’ with bated breath.
Games against those who sit in the lower reaches of the table have been Norwich’s Achilles heel for numerous seasons.
Daniel Farke has been the protagonist of change thus far this campaign. Step changes have been witnessed, the majority of which have been for the better. One of the most significant is the Canaries record against sides in the bottom half of the table. Against sides of this calibre, Norwich is yet to record a loss.
If you hold any aspirations of mounting a promotion push, that is integral.
Ewood Park is a destination labelled with the connotations of a conventional Championship fixture, whereby technical quality comes second to work rate, physicality and being clinical in the final third.
What’s apparent about Norwich is how they retained their sense of calm despite the hostility and rough tackles they were on the receiving end of. Many sides would have opted to adapt their approach or, even more possible, was the hosts dragging down Norwich to their style of play.
Synonymous with this Norwich City side is technique and an aesthetically pleasing method of operations, but they also possess a big heart. Determination is something that has been personified through this team, both individually and collectively.
Patently, this side is one which fundamentally believes in how it operates.
Even as the clock ticks down and defences drop deeper, Norwich keep attempting to assert their way and construct chances through phases of build up as opposed to simply hitting and hoping.
All talk of luck is ultimately futile.
Opposing sets of supporters witness the timings of Norwich’s goals and associate that with chance, something easily done without scratching beyond the surface. All of Norwich’s openings have arrived due to intellectual phases of play. Consistently, they manage to work openings by crafting them, not by getting lucky.
Similarly, the sheer amount of goals that Norwich score from inside the six-yard box illustrates the effectiveness of their play to displace opposing defensive phases whilst manipulating space. It isn’t a coincidence, it’s a result of their graft before reaching the offensive third.
The space between the centre-backs set the direction of Norwich’s play, whilst an orchestrator then dictates the pace and rhythm of the possession from the space between the respective defenders.
This time out, it was a majestic pass by Mario Vrancic, a beautifully weighted cross from Onel Hernandez and an instinctive piece of movement by Teemu Pukki. This wasn’t the only time Pukki has stabbed in a late goal, nor will it be the last.
Possessing strength in depth is important for pulling rabbits from the hat and yet again it was significant contributions from substitutes that won Norwich that game whilst illustrating the togetherness present in this squad.
Many expected, upon the release of the team sheet, to see Grant Hanley’s name placed within it.
Everyone except Farke. The team he fielded contained five starters under 22 years of age, three others in their first full seasons in the Championship and yet nobody lost their sense of approach nor retaliated when the game became scruffy.
Ben Godfrey has risen to the challenge of replacing experience in Norwich’s reargued.
Ask any Norwich supporter, Hanley would have been present in their starting eleven.
Yet for Farke, it was no real surprise to see Godfrey in the line-up because Norwich’s Head Coach advocates the inclusion of youth and doesn’t see experience as reason alone to replace him.
Considering he hasn’t operated at centre back professionally, let alone in this division, Godfrey has been exceptional. No concessions, an excellent range of passing but also a physicality that allows him to compete with the robust operators at this level. Underpinning it all is his sense of composure, Godfrey has been forced to wait for his opportunity, but he’s currently seizing it.
What makes a great leader is somebody who invests belief into operators, but also provides them with the ability to express themselves and improve. Farke is constructing quite the team at Norwich, one which is displaying why it is being considered as promotion contenders.
This fixture proves why Norwich sit top of the division.
Sometimes technical quality isn’t enough to drag yourself over the line and other characteristics need to be more prominent but those foundations of their principles allow them to adapt and possess a reserve in which they can rely upon.
Halfway through the season, the appraisal is one of unforeseen positivity. This fixture held significance because it begins a tough run of games. If Norwich finds themselves in the same position post-Ipswich, then they have it all to lose.
Their fate is currently in their own hands, it’s up to them to prove that’s something they relish. Fear shouldn’t enter the occasion unless there’s a backdrop of expectation. Ultimately, supporters and players must cherish the journey, because it is something to behold.
From everyone at TalkNorwichCity, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and hope you and your family enjoy the festivities. Thank you for engaging with our content this year. Enjoy your Turkey, open your presents and consume the Queen’s speech. After that, cast your mind ahead to Nottingham Forest, but no further than that.