Paddy Davitt verdict: City are not interlopers. They are title contenders
PUBLISHED: 15:50 03 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:06 03 February 2019
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Hands in his coat pockets. Strolling down the touchline alone with his thoughts while the white scarves twirled and the noise ricocheted around a sold out Elland Road cauldron.
Daniel Farke appeared almost oblivious to the bedlam as he strode past Marcelo Bielsa prior to kick-off to re-join the rest of his coaching staff and substitutes in the City technical area.
The German betrayed no trace this was the biggest game of his Canaries’ tenure. Or that 90 minutes later it would be remembered as his best. What transpired in the intervening period was the realisation of all Farke and Stuart Webber have been working towards.
It left you to marvel again at the skill and dexterity to construct a team crammed with youthful exuberance, cultivated in their own academy, plus astute recruitment from far away markets, for a fraction of the sums lavished in the club’s Premier League era.
It all came together in a seamless, almost arrogantly dismissively victory against a team who started the match top of the Championship pile.
Farke is not an arrogant man. Nor are his players.
But the Norwich City head coach knows his methods work. His footballers also know they are good enough to compete at the top end. But to put theory into practice in such a white hot, febrile setting was another matter entirely.
It also sold a lie to those who claim Farke’s philosophy is simply slavish adherence to possession football. Leeds dominated that particular metric yet Norwich were controlled and composed on the counter. Clinical incisions rocked Bielsa’s side three times before the visitors kept them largely at arm’s length in a second period of game-management that was possibly even more impressive.
We had seen flickers of this maturity recently against the likes of Birmingham and Sheffield United; a more circumspect approach rather than full throttle when the creative work has been done.
But the protection afforded Tim Krul after the interval, when most would have expected a ferocious onslaught, underlined City are not interlopers. They are title contenders.
To have lost once in nearly four months of league combat is a tribute to this squad’s character and spirit. To have lost only once away from home all season in the league, and to extend their current unbeaten away league run to a club record 13 games, says everything about their resolve.
Those statistics stand above all others because they demonstrate the mentality of this group.
The quality is not in doubt. Look at the technical ability of Mario Vrancic or Emi Buendia. Of Teemu Pukki or Tom Trybull. Look at the attacking instincts of Jamal Lewis or Max Aarons. These are fine footballers capable of operating at a higher level.
But it takes more, much more than sheer quality, to go to West Brom or Leeds and stand your ground.
To fight back when the tide is against you, the home crowd is baying and your opponents are swarming from all angles.
That was the hand dealt the visitors following Vrancic’s deflected early free kick which contrived to sting the home side into a concerted response.
City creaked in the aftermath, as Leeds looked for Pablo Hernandez on the right flank at every opportunity and the runs of Kemar Roofe.
There was an excellent chance for Ezgjan Alioski on the volley at the back post. Krul had to beat away Roofe’s goalbound hit, after Pukki’s predatory instincts had brought him more personal reward.
Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey put their bodies on the line, Trybull tore into challenges with a relish Alex Tettey would have loved.
But Norwich found a way to survive in the difficult, uncomfortable moments when a team with less resolve or less belief would have folded. Then they responded, pushing Leeds back again on the counter, before subduing and finally sickening the hosts after the break.
It was a magnificent statement of intent.
Once jubilant City players had taken their leave at the end, after celebrating in front of the travelling support when passions had cooled on the final whistle, he stood alone again. Just Farke and his fan club.
The orchestrated cheering led by the City chief has become a feature of Norwich’s thrilling Championship ride.
Farke beat his chest and raised his hands skywards to acknowledge the love.
A beaming smile across his features. Not arrogance, just satisfaction. A job well done. But there is still unfinished business. Next up: Ipswich Town.