Middlesbrough battering should keep Norwich City on their toes come their Derby clash
17:00 19 December 2014
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There are now probably several examples of when things got very real for Norwich City’s promotion challenge this season – but the night of November 4 sticks out.
A chilling evening on the north east coast saw the Canaries put to the sword by a Middlesbrough side doing everything their visitors should have been capable of – but were falling miserably short.
Boro slung the ball this way and that, ran most of their opposing numbers ragged and ultimately brushed Norwich aside. On the night, City looked completely lost.
Their form at the time may have played a part in all they were able to offer at the Riverside Stadium – but don’t forget, they headed north having supposedly turned the corner at home to Bolton the previous Friday night. In the end, Halloween came four days late.
The occasion is seared in this particular memory for a handful of reasons. Predominantly, it underlined City’s naivety – something that was already becoming a problem to overcome at Carrow Road.
Norwich have a lot of quality in their squad – that’s hardly a bold statement. But at Boro they looked like that would be enough. Quite clearly it wasn’t – nor was it ever going to be.
Another point worth making – no surprises here either – is that Middlesbrough were very good.
I’ve yet to see a side turn up at Carrow Road that looks anything particularly special. And away from home – apart from Cardiff’s opening spell hosting Norwich – Boro are the only side that has looked like they could take the Championship by storm this season.
You know their style. You know their philosophy. Despite that, it’s still difficult to stop them… I wonder if all this so far is teeing up Ipswich Town to beat Boro at Portman Road this weekend? Probably.
The point is, in the last two games Norwich City have started to prove they’re not going to carry on naively trying to batter teams this season – only to be hit on the break.
And it’s good timing too, because this Saturday’s trip to Derby has clear similarities to City’s venture towards the Riverside almost seven weeks previous.
The form of the Rams since Steve McClaren took over has been astonishing – effectively averaging two points per game across almost 60 games. They got so close to promotion last season, they are desperate to remove the play-off factor this time around.
They are hungry. They work. And they have a huge amount of second-tier quality, especially when they are at home. Arguably they are like Middlesbrough. Only better.
And while the Canaries are in the lovely place of back-to-back wins and clean sheets, it’s this weekend that can really mark them out as challengers this term – and leave their fans feeling the team that was top in October is the real Norwich City; not the one that could only string together disappointment during a lowly autumn.
“In our debriefing of games for the players, we always look at what could happen if you don’t do your jobs – and we can always point to the Middlesbrough game,” Neil Adams told me at Colney on Thursday.
“Derby is a very similar set-up to that game. A team going well, especially at home, and I’m sure the Middlesbrough game will get mentioned – let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
• Just Saying…
It’s quite amusing how many reunions Norwich City are enjoying at the moment – with Derby’s Chris Martin the next recipient this weekend.
Given plenty of fans were openly frustrated with the striker while he was here, I can’t help a wry smile whenever fans – maybe the same ones – now lament the decision to let him go.
It’s great to see how well Chris has done, and you expect the Premier League will be calling for him one way or another, soon enough.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey