David Freezer: Expectation is unacceptable ahead of huge opportunity for Canaries
It's been a slightly odd week in the world of Norwich City, despite two important Carrow Road victories taking Daniel Farke's team to five wins on the spin to remain top of the table.
From grumbles at how hard it was to beat Swansea and somehow allowing Hull to stay in with a chance, to moans about Tim Krul’s kicks amid nervy atmospheres, there’s been a tinge of negativity around – somehow.
Today’s trip to Rotherham offers the perfect antidote though, an away game against one of the teams battling relegation, two scenarios which have been the bread and butter of this Canaries campaign.
There’s no need to worry about the atmosphere in the away end at the New York Stadium. The 2,500 fans who snapped up those tickets will sing loud and proud throughout, as they did so superbly at Millwall.
But in a strange way, all that has happened in the last two games might just prove the perfect tonic on and off the pitch, nipping complacency in the bud.
Almost everyone connected to City think the club should be a prime candidate for becoming established in the Premier League, particularly if the current excellent work is continued.
So perhaps that little bit of expectancy has crept back in at Carrow Road, in spite of this remarkable promotion push being so unexpected by the majority.
Swansea played well last Friday but lacked the killer instinct that City so clearly possess, yet the mood for much of the game was almost one of shock that a visiting team had the temerity to try and win the game.
Wednesday was stranger still, as the league leaders played well enough to win the game far more comfortably. Unfortunately the atmosphere became one of a team 5-0 up and cruising to promotion, with Mo Leitner particularly unimpressed at the chants for him to toss his hat into the Snake Pit and Jordan Rhodes awkwardly being asked to start a song.
The problem was, Hull were still in with a shout and Chris Martin’s goal saw those fun and games look extremely complacent. The job is far from done yet, perhaps the international break will allow for a deep breath and a realignment so that everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet against QPR on April 6.
Anyway, back to matters on the pitch and the five-match winning streak allows City to travel to South Yorkshire in high spirits, looking to match the six successive triumphs enjoyed back in October and November, which thrust them into the automatic promotion race.
One of the factors which has put Farke’s team two points clear at the top with nine games left is the ability to overcome the more physical, direct challenges posed by the struggling teams.
Last season the Canaries took 18 points from a possible 36 against the bottom six, winning just four of those 13 matches.
They did the double over Birmingham and Reading but inexplicably failed to beat any of the bottom four, with the home draws against Bolton, Barnsley and Burton all particularly galling as a succession of chances were wasted.
It’s been a very different story during 2018-19 though, taking a superb 25 points from a possible 27 so far, winning eight of the nine games against the current bottom six, and drawing the other, amid the intensity of derby day at Portman Road.
The double has already been completed over Millwall and Bolton, with 24 goals scored and nine conceded. It’s the kind of record you’d expect of promotion contenders.
With the added incentive of knowing that at least one of Leeds and Sheffield United will drop points, as they meet at Elland Road at lunchtime, victory today would leave promotion in City’s hands.
For that to happen though the same respect must be afforded to Rotherham that was to Bolton and Millwall recently, there was no air of expectancy on or off the pitch at either away game, particularly with last season’s defeats at both stadiums still fresh in the mind.
And of course Norfolk’s own Paul Warne inflicted a painful defeat on Norwich before, ahead of Farke’s arrival, when his team did everything they possibly could to disrupt Alex Neil’s side and won 2-1 in January 2017, helped by an early red card for Nelson Oliveira.
‘Warniola’ is doing a great job to even have the Millers in with a chance of survival, with the budget he has to work with, as emphasised by a 2-1 win at QPR on Wednesday night.
They’ve only lost four games at home, Leeds edged a 2-1 win at the New York in January. Any form of expectancy is unacceptable.
More of the united spirit to encourage this fantastic team to play the fine football they are capable of will again be the key.
• PULLING NO PUNCHES
Hopefully you’ve had the chance to catch up on the enthralling Q&A involving Stuart Webber after the Canaries Trust’s AGM on Thursday night by now.
If not, it’s well worth a read, City’s sporting director was as brutally honest and engaging as he has been ever since that lengthy first interview after his arrival from Huddersfield almost two years ago.
As a journalist it’s of course great to report on a senior club figure who is happy to speak his mind, it makes for good content, but fans should also savour that insight while Webber is still around.
Too many in modern professional sport spend most of their time trying to say as little as possible in interviews, sometimes in the build-up to big games that’s needed, to manage the mood.
But Webber’s passionate backing of Tim Krul and praise for Emi Buendia was mixed with good humour and respect for all the questions that came his way, including really interesting details of the club’s transfer methods.
• HE’S A STAR, MAN
There’s a cracking suggested chant that’s been doing the rounds on social media, that I can’t quite get out of my head.
I’ll suggest the family-friendly version here, courtesy of
@AndyHead02 on Twitter, to the tune of the David Bowie classic Starman: “There’s a star man, playing down the right, his name is Maximillian, and he’s really dynamite!”
It’s been a great season for new songs, I’ve struggled to get “Teemu Pukki, baby” out of my head for months and I’ve even heard it being sung on Tombland hours after a game as fans are enjoying their nights out.
Tom Trybull, Emi Buendia, Christoph Zimmermann and Kenny McLean are all among the players to have songs, so it would be great to hear an academy product getting his own chant. Having caught up with Max for an interview at Colney earlier this week, I can assure you the calm, confidence and intelligence that he shows at just 19 years old, is as obvious off the pitch, as it is on it. The lad has a big future ahead of him.