Paddy Davitt verdict: Stress-free Championship passage for Norwich City? No chance.
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Dull is not a word you would associate with Alex Neil's Norwich City tenure.
First there was that dizzying ascent when he swept into Carrow Road from unfashionable Hamilton Academical. A ride of epic highs, derby triumphs and Wembley.
Next came the early Premier League promise and bitter sting of relegation. The recriminations and the rancour, the collective responsibility and the summer soul-searching. Now Norwich remarkably peer down on the rest of the Championship knowing there is so much more to come from this set of players and management. That it came, yet again, in difficult circumstances should be no surprise when you consider all that has gone before.
Burton was another exercise in rising anxiety and late relief. Norwich scored three times, had a second consecutive penalty saved and squandered any number of clear opportunities. Burton pressed and probed as their confidence levels soared, emboldened by performing on a stage which appears to carry alluring properties for opponents at this level. Norwich's home fans have rarely seen the levels of total control exhibited by Neil's side in the second-half at Nottingham Forest the previous weekend. That is what induces a nauseous feeling as the outcome hangs in the balance - currently until the final quarter. Bristol City was arguably the most comfortable league display at Carrow Road this season, despite the slender scoreline, but Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff, Wigan and now Burton have all challenged the Canaries' hegemony.
Perhaps a subtle process of re-education is underway. Winning in any fashion is the primary goal. Timm Klose talked in the build-up about the culture shock of encountering a league like no other in his career. How Norwich must match the physicality and the fighting spirit before their undoubted quality tips the balance against the majority of Championship rivals.
City's goals against Burton, in between the bouts of self-doubt without the ball, illustrated the defender's point. Graham Dorrans' cushioned pass was delicious in its execution, matched by the manner Martin Olsson calmly lifted it into the roof of Jon McLaughlin's net. Jacob Murphy's latest goal owed much to a deflection from John Mousinho but the crispness of the interplay with Cameron Jerome was another example of City's enviable cutting edge before Ivo Pinto's wonderfully incisive burst and equally emphatic finish sealed the points.
Those feelings of impeding doom with each passing minute swiftly fade. What is tangible are the points on the board and Norwich's increasingly dominant standing in the Championship. It remains early days but the force is with Neil's troops and the momentum is building. The aesthetics can come later.
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City earned many plaudits this time last year in the Premier League during a spell that showcased their collective ability but failed to produce points in the quantities required. We all can recall West Ham and Liverpool away or Stoke City at home. City are maximising their returns right now from sporadic productivity. That should be a source of strength for the battles ahead. If Norwich can lead the pack with so much left in reserve then only complacency or another burst of injuries halts their progress.
The hype surrounding Wednesday's next league trip to Newcastle United may rival an East Anglian derby - certainly beyond tribal boundaries - with both clubs tipped to prevail before a ball was kicked. City travel to St James' on an upward curve but no-one, least of all Neil and his players, would under-estimate the scale of the task. Bar that unsavoury episode at Birmingham, Norwich have found a way to prevail more often than not in the Championship this season. Do that again at the home of the Magpies and it will be City's rivals striving to find a successful formula.