Jon Punt: Can you feel the force at Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:15 23 October 2018
City's swashbuckling comeback weekend win did much to calm any fears that the slight Stoke stutter would signal the kind of dip in form which defined last season.
It also placed the Canaries firmly back in the play-off mix and, remarkably, just two points behind a Marcelo Bielsa ‘inspired’ Leeds United, who had reportedly wrapped up the Championship title at the end of August.
What the victory underlined, however, is how far Norwich have come in such a short space of time. When the Yorkshire side swept aside City with a masterclass in quick tempo and high energy football, many questioned whether this season was destined to be another which would be quickly forgotten. In fact, even some of the more forgiving supporters and hardy souls felt the tide had turned too far for the ship to be steadied.
The assertion was Daniel Farke’s tenure would be lucky to see the tinsel go up on the Carrow Road Christmas trees. Substitutions were questioned, the style of play criticised and the management of senior personnel worried many.
Fortunately, the City board had more fortitude than some of those in the stands.
Two months on and the City Ground victory was a statement of intent. It spoke of City’s loftier ambitions, of their newly-found resilience and a momentum slowly building. Forest were a side unbeaten at home in six months, tasting defeat only once this season. Yet after the hosts dominated the early exchanges, Norwich were full value for their three points.
Post-match celebrations, including some tub thumping from Farke and appreciation from those who made the journey, spoke of a growing unity in the Canaries ranks. This is a team the fans can now buy into. The youthful exuberance brought to the side by forward thinking full-backs Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis now has additional swagger in the form of a confident Todd Cantwell. Likeable leaders have emerged in the form of the charismatic Alex Tettey and Timm Klose. Suddenly the squad has an identity, one of a young side with the potential to go on to bigger and better things. Allied to it is a more purposeful look, one which is yielding chances and now a string of positive results.
There are no superstars. Just a tight unit, all pulling together in the same direction. That unit now comprises a deeper squad, which has been tested by injuries to key personnel in recent weeks, emerging stronger than ever. There is an increasing vibrancy to City’s play; gone is the more methodical and sometimes stilted build-up, replaced by a vibrancy, dynamism and a willingness to take chances in the final third.
Although Stuart Webber might be responsible for player recruitment, this is very much the house that Farke built. The foundations were laid last term, and that patience everyone called for is starting to be rewarded. There is a more streetwise feel to the team, one which has been honed through hard work and exposure to the league for the continental imports. Where this takes City now is still very much uncertain, but for now supporters can be proud of what is unfolding in front of their eyes. What is more concrete is the fact Norwich are there on merit – they have now faced seven of the other nine sides occupying the top 10 and, Leeds aside, have looked competitive against all of them.
Pertinently, expectation levels have been checked. No one really foresaw this coming. Norwich are almost exclusively much stronger when they have that underdog feel. Big money signings have historically rarely paid off, yet invariably when the Yellow Army see that their side are giving their all on the pitch, despite how high profile the players are, the sense of togetherness can create a powerful and palpable force for good. Harness that feeling for the months ahead and a successful campaign could be just around the corner.