Michael Bailey: A promotion bellwether, Buendia's big win and a rare positive - Six things learned from Norwich's Owls thrashing
It's a Norwich City campaign on the rise, and it hits new heights at Hillsborough against Sheffield Wednesday - Michael Bailey dishes out his super six things learned.
1 – The first half is just a box-ticking exercise
Just because things are going well, you shouldn’t ignore the pertinent issues – and woe betide these six things getting unduly carried away or over-excited.
Credit here to City fan Kristan Reed, who decided the aftermath of Norwich’s biggest away win since dispatching Ipswich 5-1 in Easter 2011 was the time to highlight a table with City fifth from bottom – based on had their matches this season ended at half-time. Sort it out Daniel Farke!
I jest (no really). Such a table will please part of the City head coach because it underlines a principle he has worked on from the moment he arrived: the aim to tire and overpower opponents as a game wears; to probe, press.
The same patience that has always been there under Farke, now comes with added dynamism – and it’s proving a popular and potent mix. So in summary, half-time deficits? Completed it mate.
Another box-ticking exercise is the homegrown rule. We’ll get on to that in a tick.
2 – The one really indicative positive
It’s probably the Norwich City way as much as anything else – defying both odds and goal-difference.
The Canaries managed an inaugural Premier League title challenge in 1992-93 while finishing with a negative goal-difference of four. For context – in the 26 seasons since 1992, Everton (2004-5) are the only other side to finish in the top four without a positive goal difference in double figures. Theirs was -1.
It wasn’t until victory over Wigan in September that City could claim a positive goal-difference after full-time under Farke but the sea-change now is that Norwich have brought themselves into goal-difference contention with all bar one of the sides around them at the top. Happy days.
From a first win at the Owls since 2001, to their first away win in November since 2008, busting runs and myths is often a precursor to success.
All they need to do now is convert more penalties and they’ll be laughing.
3 – The good days are mounting for Emi
For most of his initial outings, it was taking Emi Buendía 45 minutes to catch the speed of a Championship game. There’s probably a table for that somewhere too!
And it’s quite the thought that we were at October and the young Argentine forward – still only 21 by the way – was bang in the thick of games from the first kick. It’s the sort of transition that can take half a season for some extremely talented players, if they make it at all.
If that was where Buendía’s influence was to plateau then there would still be a sizeable impact – but it hasn’t. The attacking midfielder now has two goals in two Championship games: one the only goal of a game and on Saturday at Wednesday, a crucial second.
But perhaps the best bit was his running battle with Barry Bannan – a classy Scottish operator who knows the Championship’s dark arts. It was an even, stirring battle that saw both dig in.
And that says as much about Buendía as any stat.
4 – The more things change…
Chemistry and coaching, a little bit of both. My question, Teemu Pukki’s answer, Farke’s dream.
It doesn’t take much watching of City in recent weeks to see how comfortable they are with the plan laid out before them. And perhaps most impressive of all, that isn’t changing if the personnel does.
Rhodes, Trybull, McLean, Passlack, Hanley, Thompson and Cantwell – all out of contention on Saturday; all more than capable of starting and influencing. And I’ve not even mentioned those on more money, with less favour.
Dean Ashton is proving a top pundit – and he has questioned whether City have the squad to keep this up. I’d argue they do – although the spending power of others in January might be an unwelcome hurdle.
City have really developed their youngsters too – yet are fighting to stay within the EFL’s homegrown rules. In reality, for the former they should be given some leeway on the latter.
5 – Owls of derision spell woe
I wrote my weekly Norwich City column on Friday about just how much things had changed for Norwich in the 16 games since they were smashed by Sheffield Wednesday in May. I hadn’t appreciated how much things had also changed for their hosts.
From the bouncing atmosphere, energetic performance and full stands that saw out last season with a 5-1 thumping, Saturday was flat and failing.
While there were stars missing and still some talent on the pitch, the alarming capitulation from Jos Luhukay’s players and toxic feeling from the fans mean that if nothing changes, Wednesday’s free-fall will only continue.
And with the Blades lying in wait, Luhukay may not have much longer to suffer.
Tallying the last three games at Hillsborough, the Owls can still claim a 10-6 aggregate lead over Norwich – but it’s going to take a lot more than that to avoid their season unravelling into something unpalatable.
6 – Just six wins from safety!
Farke mentioned it, so I feel I should put a number on it. I’d argue six more wins should do it – enough to book 48 points and Championship safety. I know one ex-Norwich boss who’d take that right now.
I also remember a similar line coming from Nigel Worthington as City pulled up trees back in 2003-4. I don’t mind it at all, so long as the ambition and drive is there between the lines.
That Leeds joined Norwich on 30 points after 16 games and jumped above them to the summit on (ironically) goal-difference is neither here nor there.
At the moment this is like a stage of the Tour de France – get in a breakaway and build the biggest gap you can. You can worry about who’s going to take the line in the last 500 metres.
Every national media outlet is expecting City to run out of puff in a few kilometres; meanwhile the last decade says more than two-thirds of the teams to reach 30 points after 16 games end up promoted.
• For added context…
In the last 10 Championship seasons, 28 teams have reached 30 points or more after 16 games – which has included NINE of the 10 title winners, 15 of the 20 teams automatically promoted and FOUR of the 10 play-off winners.
Therefore of those 28 teams, NINE have missed out on promotion – three of which were Middlesbrough: 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2014-15 at the hands of Norwich at Wembley. Norwich also accounted for Cardiff’s failure in 2010-11.
Reading are the only team to win the title having failed to break 30 points after 16 games (21 points, 2011-12), while Sheffield United and Bristol City both reached the early benchmark last season alongside Wolves and Cardiff, who were automatically promoted. United and City finished 10th and 11th respectively.
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