Paddy Davitt verdict: Rolling with the punches is in Canaries’ DNA
If ever one image summed up Norwich City at present it was the sight of an exhausted Christoph Zimmermann gulping in air with his hands on his knees deep inside the penalty box.
Zimmermann has the physique of a heavyweight boxer but along with the rest of Daniel Farke’s depleted squad had been on the ropes and covering up for most of the opening period.
The lethargy and sluggishness to the visitors’ collective labours contrasted sharply to Bristol City’s vibrant, high energy bursts.
Zimmermann had just headed another corner clear but frankly looked spent as he waited for the next home wave. We know now, courtesy of Farke’s post-match revelation, that Zimmermann was one of a number of players struggling with illness which had swept through the camp.
The central defender had not slept on the eve of the game, according to his head coach, but with Timm Klose back in Norfolk and Grant Hanley’s injury-hit campaign hitting a new low, with a training ground eye injury that saw him named on the bench in ‘an emergency’, Zimmermann had to do his duty.
If you want to be uncharitable you might question the defender’s role in both home strikes.
Yet he also sparked the move that led to Norwich’s opener.
His race was finally run around the hour mark, when his desperate sliding lunge was unable to prevent Callum O’Dowda lashing Bristol in front.
Hanley was introduced for his first senior outing since the derby draw on September 2.
Pitched into the maelstrom against a Robins side firmly in the ascendancy, and Alex Tettey teetering on the cusp of a second yellow card, there was never likely to be a white flag raised on the Scot’s watch.
No excuses about illness or injury, no sense the degree of difficulty was too great or the physical effort too much to retrieve the situation.
Norwich mustered another of those now trademark late flourishes that brought another goal for Max Aarons and, but for more care shown from Onel Hernandez on another cross, may have produced a winner for Jordan Rhodes.
Hanley barrelled forward in stoppage time and unleashed a shot at Niki Mäenpää. Much like the exhausted Zimmermann, the sight of his marauding replacement on the edge of the Bristol penalty area offered another defiant symbol.
Norwich were below-par for most of this contest but when the dust settled had added another point to their growing tally.
Leeds may have replaced them at the summit but a tenth unbeaten league game underlined forward momentum had been retained.
Farke predictably took a step back when many pointed to his astute double substitution and tactical switch, that injected Hernandez’s pace into the mix and provided the attacking platform for Aarons to demonstrate once again he increasingly appears a forward in a full back’s body.
The movement to get himself back onside, as Hernandez squared up his marker on the opposite flank, then the anticipation were matched by the composed header, as he met the ball beyond the far post.
The only surprise on recent evidence was City did not find a winner.
To reprise Farke’s prosaic response upon winning November’s manager-of-the-month that would have truly been a Hollywood script.
Even if Aarons had not intervened and Norwich’s unbeaten run had come to an end there was hardly need for alarm.
It will end eventually but the underlying trends, the depth to a squad that can add the likes of Kenny McLean, Moritz Leitner and Klose to the starting mix requires a healthy sense of perspective.
There is a growing feeling outside the bubble these next two months or so will frame how high Norwich can set the bar in their bid to reach the Premier League.
But a gruelling test against the Robins, after those tough league battles with the likes of Rotherham, Bolton and Millwall, suggest the final plot line will not become clear until the finishing tape looms.
What festive tests against Nottingham Forest, Derby and then in early January a trip to West Brom allow is the potential to strike a psychological blow.
Norwich have played much better individually and collectively than they mustered against Lee Johnson’s Robins.
But the character, the will to resist against stifling odds, both on the pitch and off it, even the obduracy typified by Zimmermann’s resolve to put his weary body on the line, was as good as anything we have witnessed on this upward curve.
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