The penny looks to have finally dropped with Norwich City and Championship football
PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 February 2017
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Football is often dreamily described as being 'The Beautiful Game' but not by anybody who watches it regularly.
The origin of that flawed cliché is disputed but often credited to Pele. The Brazilian great achieved plenty in his career but he never experienced the true joy that can be found in grinding out a 1-0 win away from home against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City in The Championship.
Norwich City’s win at the weekend wouldn’t have got much from the judges for artistic impression but that’s why it was all the more pleasing for the Canaries fans who had endured three long months without seeing their side beat anyone outside the comfortable surroundings of Carrow Road.
Defeats at places like Barnsley, QPR and Rotherham United had left supporters wondering whether City were nothing more than a bunch of flat track bullies who could only deliver the goods if everything was going their way.
Alex Neil had even questioned the resilience of his players, particularly after the 2-1 loss at Barnsley at the beginning of December. The fear was that Championship sides had started to realise that Norwich City were a squad more used to trappings of Premier League football who, to borrow a line from Dad’s Army, “don’t like it up ‘em”.
Saturday’s match was set to be the ultimate test of this theory and not just because, being in Cardiff, there will have been plenty of Joneses in the stands, willing the Bluebirds to head the instructions hollered by their namesake Corporal in Walmington-on-Sea.
Neil Warnock has made a career of delivering no-nonsense, in your face, effective Championship football. The only way Norwich were ever going to win at Cardiff was by rolling up their yellow and green sleeves and showing that they had enough desire to match a manager who has always known that points in this division are only awarded for substance and not style.
Perhaps the penny has dropped amongst the City players. This was the sort of ugly win that underpins a promotion push. For every free flowing 5-0 home win there needs to be tens of matches where wins by the odd-goal and even against-the-run-of-play draws are chiselled out in painstakingly disciplined fashion.
Alex Neil described debutant left back Mitchell Dijks as ‘A beast’ in our post-match interview. It was a seriously impressive bow from the 23-year old Dutchman who had talked openly on Friday about his reticence when it came to changing countries being one of the reasons why Norwich’s initial transfer bid had eventually been downgraded to a loan.
Ajax, famed for its development of technically excellent young footballers, didn’t seem to be the obvious place to go shopping for someone ready made to get involved in the scrappy congestion that typifies life in the Championship.
But Dijks took to it like a duck to water. An early bone crunching challenge which left Cardiff winger Kadeem Harris crumpled on his back like a noisy fly in a kitchen who had just been clubbed with a rolled up newspaper provided proof that stereotypes about these fancy continental types are probably best left in 1970s sitcoms.
Norwich City still have plenty of work to do if they’re to become serious promotion contenders once more but credit must be due considering they have now won three straight matches during a turbulent spell where spending £7 million on a new winger has only been a minor talking point.
Who would have thought City splashing that sort of cash could ever be overshadowed but two first team regulars have been sold for big money, another chief executive has left and supporters remain scarred by that terrible run before Christmas.
The Canaries took a significant step in the right direction on Saturday. In artistic terms, it was more like Tracey Emin’s unmade bed than a bone fide masterpiece but the Championship has always favoured more about the bold than the beautiful.
Foul play at heart of Cardiff’s main weapon
It was great to commentate alongside the former Norwich City goalkeeper Mark Walton at Cardiff.
Building a squad of former Canaries, based all around the country, to work with us on BBC Radio Norfolk as match day summarisers means we tend to get a different take on Norwich, and football in general, most weeks. It’s hard for those of us who have to describe City’s matches week in week out, season after season to think of new things to say so it’s a joy to have such a refreshing range of opinions.
Mark’s real moment of enlightenment came when Cardiff unveiled one of their biggest weapons. As Icelandic midfielder Aron Gunnarsson propelled the first of many long throw-ins towards the Norwich penalty area, my co-commentator piped up “That’s a foul throw. All of his are”.
No-one on the pitch appealed for anything and I had never heard this accusation aimed at Gunnarsson since he made his debut in English football as a Coventry City player against Norwich in 2008.
“Watch this next one” continued Mark a few moments later. “See how the ball is spinning? That means it’s a foul throw.” I have checked the laws on the FA website and I think he’s right. The official definition of a throw-in states that a player must ‘throw the ball with both hands from behind and over the head from the point where it left the field of play’.
The argument here is that if the ball is spinning as it travels through the air then Gunnarsson’s hands are not level when he throws the ball and that must mean that one of them isn’t either behind or over his head. You can’t make a ball spin so violently and have everything in line with the laws.
I’m just glad Cardiff didn’t score from one of those Gunnarsson’s specials but it’s got to be worth making a note of the next time the Canaries come up against him.
Players and officials alike seemed blissfully unaware that the throw-in law was being contravened so outrageously on Saturday.