Norwich City must prove they are a class act in the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's Championship quest is rapidly turning into a voyage of discovery.
It may well be only three years or so since they last inhabited English football's second tier but after the allure and glamour of the top flight they have adapted swiftly to avoid the same hard landing that has afflicted both Cardiff and Fulham.
That is to the credit of Neil Adams, his coaching staff and a playing squad which is the equal of any in the Championship. Therein lies one of the harsher facts of life which was again demonstrated by a fully-committed Birmingham, who belied their own lowly league status and seeming travel sickness, given they had only scored one goal and picked up one point away from St Andrews so far.
After an arduous Premier League stint when Norwich's presence among the very best at times provoked condescension and a patronising attitude beyond the confines of Norfolk they are now viewed as a prized scalp.
Norwich's rise was fuelled on the cult of the outsider, a siege mentality fostered by Paul Lambert and a desire to prove they belonged in such rarefied company.
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Now the onus is on demonstrating they belong outside the Championship; that they are too good, they possess too much quality and ability to reside in the Football League beyond the briefest of tenures.
That is not arrogance, that is simply a statement the majority of Norwich's rivals this season would voluntarily subscribe to.
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Perhaps it explains why Brentford and Ipswich, to a lesser degree, attempted to disrupt Norwich's smooth progress with a physical brand of combat totally alien to what a hardcore of Adams' squad experienced in the Premier League.
It is also why Birmingham were the latest to arrive at Carrow Road and feel inspired by their surroundings; a full stadium, a raucous atmosphere at times and a highly-rated opponent touted for promotion. Just like Blackburn and Bournemouth before them there was no discernible trace of an inferiority complex, rather a collective desire to prove they belong on such a stage against a more illustrious opponent.
That is a seismic shift for Norwich's players and supporters to comprehend after a three-year sojourn outside the Football League.
Birmingham and the Cherries both altered their formations as a mark of respect to the latent threat posed by a free-scoring Norwich side. Lee Clark opted to deploy Callum Reilly and David Davis in front of his back four and use Clayton Donaldson's pace and muscular intent in a lone front-running role. Michael Turner and Jos Hooiveld may have had only a cursory knowledge of the Blues' forward prior to this contest, but they knew all about the rangy frontman afterwards.
Donaldson offered far more than nusiance value. His mobility and penalty box presence was crucial for the visitors in establishing a bridgehead prior to the interval after a positive opening few minutes from Adams' line-up that sought to dispel any notion of complacency.
City, and Wes Hoolahan in particular, must embrace the downside to Norwich's top drawer billing. Hoolahan has routinely been hunted, starved of space and time to probe and weave his magic in another key facet of the opening weeks.
Adams admitted afterwards the Republic of Ireland international looked weary and out-of-sorts as he was replaced at the interval, but Norwich now boast the resources and the personnel to share some of the creative responsibility and ease the Dubliner's burden.
Adams' task, as he himself noted afterwards, is to protect his key men, to factor in the gruelling nature of a fixture schedule which marks another departure from the more forgiving Premier League landscape, and put his faith in a squad which went into this game minus Ryan Bennett, Jonny Howson and Gary Hooper; a trio who would improve any other Championship club.
The hosts rightly harboured a sense of grievance at the nature of Birmingham's fortuitous opener but it also required fine stops from John Ruddy to deny Davis and Donaldson in each half, a wayward free header from Jonathan Grounds, and surviving a strong penalty claim when Donaldson tumbled under Russell Martin's attentions; although Grounds' apparent handball in the final stages of the first period ensured a degree of parity in that regard.
Norwich did not have it all their own way, just like at Cardiff or even Brentford during the week in a ferocious shift at Griffin Park.
The Canaries have endured some bumpy moments during a seven-match unbeaten league run, but it is a measure of Adams' squad they have found a way to prevail.
That quality above all others will be vital over the weeks and months ahead. Norwich have the class, the goalscoring ability, the attacking power and the enviable resources to hurt any team at this level. What the past three league games demonstrate is they also have the character and fighting spirit to resist, to face adversity and repel opponents who clearly view them as a prized trophy.