Michael Bailey: Krul kicks, Baggies baggage and a win for Norwich City underdogs – Six things learned from The Hawthorns
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When a draw feels like a win – Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey delivers his Six Things Learned as West Bromwich Albion push their Championship buttons hard.
1 – The size of the task is clear again
Those opening 20 minutes at The Hawthorns should prove useful for Norwich City fans over the coming Championship weeks.
It is eight months since West Bromwich Albion lost their Premier League status but the legacy was so fresh, off the pitch – and especially on it. Power, pace, reliability on the ball, quality with it. Mason Holgate's loan from Everton came with a pretty penny in wages – and he looks a class addition.
More on Albion later but the theme extends to the other contenders – and Saturday felt formidable as City arrived with their unexpected second place, a handful of inexperienced youngsters, cheap imports and an aesthetically-pleasing system flirting with Championship naivety.
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It ideally emphasised what City are up against in the battle to be anywhere near the top; that their route is a difficult path and they are clear underdogs.
And yet the rest of the afternoon proved they have a real chance, if they believe.
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2 – Don't get lost in his kicking
Tim Krul has had to bounce back from some pretty horrible errors this season – his first back in the groove of regular football since an large dose of serious injuries.
It all kicked off against Albion at Carrow Road back in August – an intervention that contributed hugely to City's defeat – and the theme has punctuated the Canaries' campaign throughout.
And there was criticism again at The Hawthorns for some erratic distribution – a pass success rate far lower than Krul's average this season, but likewise hampered by the way Albion set up to make life difficult.
West Brom are a good side: if they set up to make life difficult for you, then your life will be difficult.
In turn, that erratic day rather underlined how good Krul has been at instigating City's style and forward momentum. And it shouldn't be lost on anyone how his solid performance on the road – as it did at Brentford – contributed to a useful point that keeps City ticking over.
3 – Subs can satisfy the City thirst
One man's first touch, his only shot, and it was on target. The second man's third touch, a peach of a first-time cross and a first Championship assist. All within 120 seconds of coming on in a high-profile, important game full of tempo and meaning.
When substitutions go right, boy to they feel like magic – especially when you make a double change, and one assists the other.
In truth it is an art form. So many times does hindsight filter the view – simply because there is no way of proving what took place as an alternative.
Darren Moore had to deal with that at full-time, having made fewer changes and his side being accused of looking leggy for at least 10 minutes – despite looking the more likely come the end.
What we do know is Jordan Rhodes proved in one, gorgeous first touch why he is so valuable to this City squad – and Kenny McLean will feel like the new signing they made 12 months earlier.
4 – Resolute City really love the road
It was a glorious 13 games away from Carrow Road – including Wembley – that propelled Norwich City back to the Premier League at the first time of asking. And for the record, Alex Neil's Canaries found themselves behind in three of them.
Four years on and the Canaries under Daniel Farke have now gone 12 Championship games on the road without tasting defeat. Perhaps most impressively, ignoring the initial peril, they have been behind in five.
Next stop for that particular record? Leeds at Elland Road. The games are only getting bigger.
It's perhaps a symptom of things post-Christmas that Saturday felt like the first properly big away game in a fair while. The aforementioned trip to Leeds plus Preston, Middlesbrough, Stoke and Villa Park mean more will follow.
But given where they were ahead of the final moments at Bramall Lane in August, you cannot fault City's impressive road resolve.
5 – The Baggies have no excuses
Harvey Barnes was always going to be a big loss for Albion, for Saturday at least. There is still time – and no doubt money – to plug the gap before January is done.
But what didn't take long to show was how much the Baggies still have to offer and call on – perhaps in itself helping Barnes to shine brighter than he managed at Barnsley the season before.
Dwight Gayle is a Championship goal machine – his 14th in the league this term added to 13 from Jay Rodriguez screams automatic promotion, unless you fritter it away at the other end. But then, at 28 Gayle should know when not to plough into the back of someone and concede a silly, costly free-kick.
What Albion really have to deal with is what Norwich know all about: the hiding to nothing; the expectation that top-flight relegation should precede Championship promotion with 'Premier League players'.
The boos and angst at full time said it all, in contrast to Farke leading City's cheers.
6 – A victory for the mini-league
Late goals, dramatic comebacks, breakthrough young players, away successes – we've not been short of Norwich narratives this season but one simple and obvious stat may have been overlooked a little.
Approaching 60pc of the league season gone and City have lost just five football matches – three coming in their first five games and the last one owing to some rather exceptional circumstances.
It's a truly remarkable record of consistency that the other two sides with the same Championship-low tally of loses – Middlesbrough and Leeds – haven't matched.
A mildly troubling aspect of City's season has been that four of their five defeats came against their fellow top-six residents – handing rivals three points as well as costing themselves three. It is the stuff of promotion mini-league nightmares.
That right there is the key positive from Saturday's draw – and should remain the key goal in the latter two of the next three games.
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