Paddy Davitt verdict: This is as good as it gets for Daniel Farke's Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 20:17 31 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:38 01 April 2019
The temptation to peer into a bright future at Norwich City is compelling. But it may never be as good as this again under Daniel Farke.
Should the Canaries seal what appears a confirmatory tour towards Championship promotion, following another magnificently resolute win at Middlesbrough, they will be catapulted into a different footballing orbit.
The biggest names, the best teams, the global allure of the English top flight. All wrapped around the transformational access to those broadcast millions will become Norwich’s new normal.
Then the challenge will be to bridge the divide; to survive and in time consolidate. Wins and sublime attacking play will be rationed.
That is the reality for every promoted Championship club who is unwilling or unable to lavish the sums the likes of Wolves or more pertinently Fulham have done so with varying degrees of success.
Long unbeaten winning runs, strikers who top goal charts and creative midfielders who plunder in ever spiralling numbers of assists will be a distant memory.
That is not meant to sound defeatist, that is the brutal reality when you try and compete with the best on a level playing field in name only.
Which is why this season of unbridled promise, this joyous tour of the English second tier, should be lived to the full and savoured in all its technicolour glory. Not as a means to something more exciting on the horizon.
Norwich may no longer be playing with the same levels of freedom or attacking abandon they produced earlier this season.
Back then they were not dealing with the growing expectancy, the tangible pressure of what could only have been a fanciful notion in that warm August sunshine at Birmingham City but increasingly feels a case of when, not if, the dream becomes reality.
Now they must overcome opponents who show Farke’s table topping side the utmost respect. Who set out to stop Norwich, to nullify their smooth passing motions and technical prowess with earthy endeavour.
The high tempo pressing and energetic bursts you suspect are not quite as ferocious when the leaders have left town.
Middlesbrough’s own pre-season bar was considerably higher than the Canaries.
A failed play-off campaign should have formed the platform to go one better. But Tony Pulis’ starting formation and approach reflected the new Championship order. That was a back-handed compliment to Norwich’s progress and, just like at Millwall or Rotherham, City responded in kind by beating Boro at their own game.
A clean sheet earned with a number of key defensive blocks and one incisive finish at the other end from another player who is improving immeasurably under Farke’s patient tuition.
Onel Hernandez can frustrate and thrill in equal measure.
The raw material does not always translate into end product. But Hernandez’s numbers continue to tick skyward. He is now an indispensible cog in a machine rumbling over or through rivals as much as dazzling with their panache.
Harvesting points in multiples as they go and oblivious to the twists and turns unfolding elsewhere.
Those who may have been worried staggered kick off times either side of the international break would prove a disadvantage should not have fretted.
Norwich took maximum points at both Rotherham and now Middlesbrough while Leeds and Sheffield United have stumbled.
To suggest this could be the high point of Farke’s tenure is not to accept the limitations of City’s future ambition. It is to fully appreciate how dominant, how consistent, how brilliantly adaptable this group of players have been.
There really appears no chink of light, no sign of weakness.
Alex Neil’s Preston were full value at Deepdale, but the response since has been faultless. Farke has deployed the same line up who repay that faith with the same winning outcome. It feels seamless, almost dismissively easy.
But to reach that rarefied air has taken prodigious hard work. What we are seeing in public is the fruits of processes shaped by Farke and Stuart Webber.
Farke himself sounded the right tone before Boro.
Park what had gone before and focus on topping the form table over the final furlong. Do that and the league table and promotion will take care of itself. It also renders what happens to rivals irrelevant.
Easy to say. Much harder to do. Unless you are this Norwich City.