David Freezer’s verdict: Respect and patience being earned by never-say-die Canaries
Hands up, who would have taken 12 points from a possible 18 and progress to the next round of the League Cup from this hectic spell of seven games in three weeks?
I thought as much. You can all put them back down now – you too please, Mr Farke.
Well that’s exactly what this resurgent and injury-affected Norwich City squad have managed, with two games still to play ahead of the next international break.
Four league wins on the spin and a cup victory at Wycombe have finally shaken off that dreaded word which was testing the patience of so many within the Canaries faithful: transition.
No longer is there a need to talk about overseas players adjusting to English football or the effect of such huge upheaval on an evolving squad. Now City fans are daring to dream a little, as Daniel Farke’s methods begin to produce Championship rewards.
All of which means this rejuvenated group can head into this week’s potentially tough games away at Derby and at home to Stoke with the pressure off. Any further points before the next break would be a bonus.
There is no need to fear either of the wealthy promotion hopefuls though, after all, both now sit below the Canaries in the table.
Finding a way past Wigan, to grab another win by a one-goal margin spoke volumes about the character and determination within the City class of 2018/19.
For any jaded mistakes or frustrating moments alongside the bright sparks at Carrow Road on Saturday, the home supporters seemed willing to provide a bit more leeway than last season.
There was less squirming in seats and moaning when things didn’t work out. When youngsters Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis were struggling to calm down as the Latics put them under pressure, the groans which have afflicted some of the club’s past academy products were quieter.
It wasn’t a vintage performance but the efforts of Farke’s players in recent weeks have earned a huge amount of respect and faith – and the mood at Carrow Road is turning to one of belief.
So while it may well have just been a calm Mario Vrancic penalty which separated the sides on Saturday, it was a goal savoured with all the feeling of a support base that can relate to the work ethic, honesty and endeavour that is earning the fine margins.
That’s reflected in Teemu Pukki’s hard yards put in for the team and handing the ball to Vrancic for the game’s crucial moment as he felt the midfielder was the right man for the job, rather than grab a sixth goal in six games for club and country.
It’s shown in the love for the video doing the rounds on social media of stand-in skipper Alex Tettey facing the City Stand as the penalty was taken, because he was too nervous to watch, before launching into celebration.
And it’s portrayed in the growing determination to keep the back door closed, as Tim Krul, Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose celebrated a third clean sheet in four league games.
The three points did not arrive easily though, as referee Gavin Ward was booed off at half-time after turning away furious appeals for a penalty in the 23rd minute after Pukki was brought down.
The rejuvenated Marco Stiepermann had drawn a fine save from Christian Walton three minutes earlier as a shaky start ebbed away, cutting in from the right wing and hitting a vicious shot towards the top-right corner.
Centre-back Chey Dunkley soon under-hit a back-pass and Pukki was away, the Barclay waiting to celebrate their new hero’s latest goal, only for a soft touch to allow Dunkley a chance to tackle. It looked like the Latics defender had taken more player than ball but the referee wasn’t convinced.
Dunkley redeemed himself with a fine block later in the first half and Stiepermann also tested Walton again with a low shot from 25 yards soon after the break.
Yet with the visitors not managing a shot on target everyone inside Carrow Road knew there was only one team who deserved the win – and it was former Ipswich loanee Callum Connolly who bundled Pukki over with just four minutes remaining, after quick feet from Stiepermann, to hand Vrancic his big chance.
Mario was the super sub again, just as he had been at Reading, stroking a cool penalty down the middle to stretch the unbeaten run to seven games and lift City into the play-off places – for the second time during Farke’s reign.
A fifth successive win may well mean the pressure is off against Derby and Stoke, but there is no indication this Canaries squad will be taking their foot off the accelerator this week.