As I write, Norwich City are top of the Sky Bet Championship table again after another late winner, this time away at Blackburn Rovers. With Leeds United playing Aston Villa at lunchtime on Sunday though, that could change but from a Canary perspective, they’ve done all they can do up till now.
This is all down to a sheer will to win and a spirit within the team that keeps them going and keeps them playing for each other, not to mention supreme late game fitness and players that can change games.
Here are a few observations that caught my eye over the weekend.
Strength in depth and Blackburn’s dark arts
Just as it looked as though we would have a virtually injury free squad for the festive period, we pick up two injuries to key players.
Emi Buendia hobbled off with a dead leg after twenty minutes and then Mo Leitner followed at half time.
The fact that Daniel Farke could bring on such quality, game changing affecting substitutes as Onel Hernandez and Mario Vrancic speaks volumes for the work that has been done by the recruitment team. With Grant Hanley, Timm Klose, Jordan Rhodes and Tom Trybull all fit and Kenny McLean nearing full fitness, the squad has the strength in depth that all clubs look for.
This was always going to be a tough away day, with Rovers only having been beaten at Ewood Park once prior to our visit in this calendar year. That’s quite a record.
Blackburn were typical of some of the sides we must face, and beat, in this league. They tried to counter our ball playing possession based game by being a little bit naughty. Niggly fouls and a couple a bit worse that put paid to Emi and Mo, as well as one on Todd Cantwell that could easily have been a red card, the ref deciding to show only a yellow.
Buendia has a dead leg, which isn’t too serious but will probably rule him out for 1-2 weeks. As for Mo? We don’t yet know.
Godfrey taking his chance
The absence of both Timm Klose and Grant Hanley has left City a little short at centre back but with Hanley fit again and Timm likely to be ready for a return on Boxing Day, that crisis has been averted and Daniel Farke now has some big decisions to make. The fact that with Hanley fit again he decided to keep faith with Godfrey and give him his third start in a row, speaks volumes about the faith that Farke has in his young players and how well Godfrey has done.
His aerial prowess was instrumental at Ewood Park both in defence and attack. Ben had two goals disallowed (one in each half) and another header on goal that forced Raya into an excellent save. At the other end, Ben was strong, physical and athletically able to deal with Blackburn’s “dark arts.” Only a few months ago, Farke said that he felt Godfrey had “all the attributes to be a world class centre back” and we’re now seeing that.
Another Pukki Party
Teemu Pukki is arguably one of the biggest reasons that Norwich are where they are. Yes, everything about our game has improved when compared to this time last year but without someone to put the ball in the net you’ll never win games.
Pukki is that man.
The winner at Blackburn was his 13th league goal for Norwich (14th in all competitions) and unbelievably, his 30th for club and country in 2018.
He had a relatively quiet game at Ewood Park but as usual, he was alert until the final whistle and always looking for the chance to score. He didn’t have that many good chances but when it came, just like all the best strikers, he took it. Signing of the season?
Tettey joins the 200 club
Alex Tettey made his 200th appearance for the Canaries against Blackburn and, now in his seventh year with the club, is still as vital a cog in the Canary machine as he’s always been. After a slightly dodgy performance last time out at Ashton Gate, there were a few calls for him to be rested from some fans but that was never going to happen. The way that he has/is being managed by the coaching staff is a testament to the way he is able to compete in virtually every match at the moment, bringing his own individual brand of physicality to the game.
Ben Godfrey looks like his natural successor in the City midfield, or at least the closest in ability assuming he doesn’t become a world class centre back, but for the next eighteen months at least, Tettey will continue to patrol the area in front of the back four and kick and fight and generally scrap his way to winning the ball, before giving it to one of the side’s many ballers.
Congratulations on reaching the 200 club, Alex.
Norwich now face a run of three games in seven days over Christmas and the new year that will go some way to determining our promotion credentials. Two home games against contenders, Forest and Derby followed by a new year’s day trip to Brentford all look tricky on paper but they, the first two especially, offer the chance to put some distance between us and the pack.
Both of those first two teams are going to be problematic to any team they face in the league and I know myself that if one of them are playing a promotion rival (or Ipswich) I assume it’ll be a tough game. The good thing about these festive fixtures is that with both being at home, it’s going to be that little bit easier on the players personally. There will be no hotels and no obscure training sessions as there would likely be if both these games were away from home. Brentford away is always tricky and I thought they were one of the best teams I’ve seen at Carrow Road when they came to Norfolk last autumn. Unlike days of yore, let’s not see City tail off like the Christmas turkey. I suspect Daniel Farke just simply won’t allow it.