Norwich are seven points clear at the top of the Championship heading into Wednesday’s crunch clash, having pretty much exclusively led the way since November. How would you summarise the last few months?
It has been good. There was a minor blip, if you want to call it that, or maybe just a few games that didn’t go in their favour during late January and early February, but their response has been superb and they haven’t dropped a point since the defeat to Swansea on 5 February. There has been a change in mood over the last four games or so where it has gone from perhaps a little bit of self-doubt to Norwich actually scoring more goals and looking more effective and efficient. It’s very positive at the moment and I think, given where they were a few weeks ago, it feels like a different world. They are top of the league and I don’t think many can have complaints about that, though it’s probably better than people expected, to be completely honest.
They went four games without scoring a goal in all competitions towards the end of January into February, which somewhat facilitated Brentford’s brief flirtation with top spot. Were there any fears that could’ve preceded a more significant blip?
Among the fans, yes. I think there were genuine concerns about the way things were going because even before that point, I would say performances weren’t necessarily as convincing as they have been in the last four games or so. Internally, I don’t think there was ever any concern. They have two mantras, one of which is ‘ignore the noise’, so regardless of what people were saying, they would have kept themselves pretty level-headed. The other one, which Daniel Farke likes to say a lot, is ‘never too high, never too low’, so they kept themselves on a even keel, so to speak and didn’t look too much into it. Personally, I felt there was a point, maybe at Millwall and Swansea, where, somewhere in their subconscious, you could sense that it was beginning to affect them a little bit. I don’t think there were any major concerns inside the walls, but among the fans there were genuine concerns they might go the way that Leeds went a couple of years ago, for example, and really fall off. That hasn’t happened and I think you’ve got to credit Farke and the players for the response. I don’t want to use the word ‘cruising’, but they are comfortable at the top.
While there’s an emphasis on just focusing on the next game in football these days, is there a growing feeling that automatic promotion will be the likely conclusion to the season?
I think so. Farke has only started to speak about points targets in the last couple of weeks and says the club need to get to 80 points to ensure they reach the play-offs and then they will look to reach whatever they can beyond that. I think there’s more big picture talk inside the camp now than there was two weeks ago. If you asked any Norwich fan at the moment they would tell you that, given the position they find themselves in currently, it would take some spectacular implosion for them not to finish in the top two now. That’s what’s interesting about tomorrow’s game because the cushion is that big at the moment that, realistically, they don’t need to push on to win it in the same way Brentford do. Attention is beginning to turn towards where they could end up but Farke is keen to make sure it’s one point at a time and that they get to 80 points as quickly as possible.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Wednesday?
Emi Buendia (above) is, for me, the best player in the division. I think it’s absolutely criminal that he’s playing at Norwich in the Championship because he’s far too good for this level. Everything they do, in a creative sense, tends to come from him and it’s very difficult to stop him; the only team who’ve had real joy in doing so it Middlesbrough when they man marked him and eventually got him sent off by winding him up a little bit. Equally, Teemu Pukki is in a really nice vein of form at the moment and has scored the first goal in the last five games, so it just goes to show how good a rhythm Norwich are in at the moment. I would’ve thrown Todd Cantwell in there, but it looks as though he’s going to miss this game with a calf strain, which is a bit of a blow for Norwich.
How is Daniel Farke likely to set up at Carrow Road?
I think it’ll be an unchanged side from Wycombe, barring any injuries. Onel Hernandez on the left, Buendia on the right; Vrancic in the No 10 role behind Pukki; Oliver Skipp and Kenny McLean the midfield two; Max Aarons Ben Gibson, Grant Hanley, Dimitris Giannoulis at the back and then Tim Krul in goal. Farke is a coach that likes continuity and consistency, so I think he’ll be keen to keep that momentum and the pendulum swinging in their favour.
Kenny McLean rescued a late point for the Canaries in the reverse fixture back in October, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
It’s difficult because when these first vs second games can be quite drab because both sides see it as a must-not-lose. I think it’ll be another 1-1 draw, if I’m honest, but if either side edges it, it’s going to be a massive result for them.
Tonight's game is live on Sky Sports Action as well as iFollow for Season Ticket and Premium Seat Members.
iFollow Match Passes to watch all the action from Carrow Road are on sale for £10 (£7 international fans)