Norwich City’s mean streak propels them into the Championship stratosphere
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There is a meanness to the way Norwich City are attacking the pursuit of Premier League football now that is a joy to behold.
Sheffield Wednesday were the latest Championship opponent to realise you make the most of slim rations in front of John Ruddy's goal or you will get heavily punished for such profligacy.
The Owls were energetic, full of committed endeavour and willing to mix it in the opening sparring despite their relative position of comfort in the table, but after Lloyd Isgrove pulled an angled shot wide and Caolan Lavery planted an unmarked header off target their was a crushing inevitability to the outcome.
This Norwich side, cast in the image of Alex Neil, go for the jugular when they smell blood. Nottingham Forest were similarly ambitious in phases of the last Carrow Road league duel, but when City move through the gears few can seemingly keep pace in the second tier.
At Brighton, the attacking urges were more fitful but once Bradley Johnson had slotted Nathan Redmond's cut-back at the Amex, City never looked set to concede the initiative despite their slender advantage.
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Neil has moulded a battle-hardened unit that relish the physical skirmishes and then punish opponents with the quality of their attacking incisions.
Johnson typifies this uncompromising spirit.
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The Norwich midfielder is happy to mix it in the trenches alongside Alex Tettey but he has also been given the freedom to plunder in ever-escalating amounts of goals. The athleticism and the timing of his far-post leap above Marnick Vermijl was balletic precision. The turn and hit to despatch Graham Dorrans' corner the instinctive movement of a man arguably in the most fertile moment of his career.
Johnson looks like a football player who is in perfect harmony with his game; all the natural talent and desire counter-balanced by the experiences of a man who has suffered crushing setbacks at boyhood club Arsenal in his teens and dragged himself back again through the harsher terrain of non-league and lower tier football.
The needless second-half booking after returning to the field following treatment without the permission of referee Carl Boyeson is just the latest adversity to afflict Johnson, but Norwich's current surge suggests in all probability it will prove only a minor inconvenience.
City have the squad depth and more importantly the mentality now not to squander a position of strength.
The Owls were unable to maintain their early intensity after Johnson's double intervention but that owed perhaps as much to Norwich's soaring self-confidence as it did the not inconsiderable handicap of a day less to prepare for Stuart Gray's squad over the Easter weekend.
The Canaries' composure after the interval in its own way was just as impressive as the devastating thrust to their attacking play prior to the break, with Wes Hoolahan again imperious.
Norwich simply drew any lingering sting from the visitors with controlled passages of possession. Ruddy remained largely a bystander as the men in front of him calmly played out time to move a step closer the end game.
This is now a self-fulfilling process which appears with each passing victory to harness enough energy to propel them over the finishing line.
Every win and clean sheet injects fresh momentum and soaring confidence through the ranks. Norwich's players must cross the white line feeling unbeatable; not in an arrogant, complacent way but secure in the knowledge they have the answer to any conundrum they may face. City look resolute without the ball and potent with it. The fluidity of movement and the interchangeable motions across midfield are the hallmark of this Neil experiment.
That is perhaps why the pending loss of Johnson for the trips to Bolton and his old club Leeds will not be so acutely felt. Neil has plenty of available resources at his disposal to keep the wheel turning.
Vadis Ofoe returned for a stoppage time cameo in his first senior involvement on the pitch since suffering knee ligament damage in the corresponding goalless stalemate at Hillsborough.
Gary O'Neil's experience was not required on this occasion and there is the youthful injection provided by Nathan Redmond. But it is not simply the enviable squad depth that is perhaps Norwich's greatest asset, it is the presence of a core of men inside the City dressing room who have covered this terrain before and know what is required approaching the fraught final furlong.
That streetwise edge was evident again at Carrow Road against the Owls, just as it had been three days earlier on the south coast.
City have the look and feel of a group who will not be buffeted by outside forces or the pressures of being involved in such an epic, draining promotion battle.
There is a consistency to everything they are trying to do right now which is borne out by an ascent towards the summit which shows no signs of levelling out.