The countdown to Burnley will feel like an eternity now with Norwich City slipping through the gears at breakneck speed under David Wagner.

An FA Cup induced postponement means the Canaries must wait and simmer before facing the champions-elect. For that is what Vincent Kompany’s squad would appear. Only one defeat in the Championship since August 13 underlines the scale of the challenge when they sweep into Carrow Road on February 4.

But what a game in store. Wagner himself was positively salivating when he briefly let his mind wander, after masterminding another action-packed Championship away win in front of a joyous away support at the Sky Blues.

The new City chief believes Carrow Road will be ‘burning’ for Burnley, with a sense of anticipation on and off the park. As statements of intent go to become the first opponent to inflict a league defeat on the Clarets in five months would fan the raging optimism now taking hold.

Can it really be just two slabs of Championship football that separates this era from the one before? From the football to the feeling there has been a transformation.

But there are cautionary signs everywhere. From the manner Coventry roared back, during an intoxicating first half at the CBS Arena, to illustrate there is plenty of hard work ahead for Wagner and his coaches to immerse a willing group of players with a belief it cannot just be about champagne attacking football.

Despite the giddy sight of Kieran Dowell and Gabby Sara dictating operations in front of Kenny McLean, while Teemu Pukki, Josh Sargent and in particular Onel Hernandez skip around the top end of the pitch like new born lambs.

Wagner revealed his angry side had emerged at the interval, before he deconstructed the problems that had beset his team after racing into a three goal lead with an impressive clarity that will become a precious commodity - if this season now laps towards what feels an inexorable play-off charge.

Knock out football would appear to be the hurdle they must clear, with Burnley and Sheffield United disappearing into the distance.

In Wagner they have a coach who has traversed that terrain before, with notable success, and who looks bang up for this challenge. But it is not just the controllables that will continue to test; it is the lost ground as the season stalled either side of a festive period which claimed Dean Smith and his coterie of closest advisors.

Three points separate third-placed Watford from 10th-placed West Brom. That demonstrates there is precious little margin for error, and certainly no capacity to experience any prolonged fallow periods in terms of results or performance.


Norwich’s ambitions are shared by all of those clubs either currently in or around the top six.

What Wagner has already achieved is to inject a sense of dynamism and momentum back into the Canaries’ Championship campaign.

The bullish German will surely view Burnley as a benchmarking exercise. Perform against the team who have set the standard in this league and a result can follow. Achieve both and there really is nothing to fear - and only complacency to guard against - to suggest this football club can reach the same end point by a slightly more circuitous route.

Wagner, of course, was too canny to publicly get caught up in the current state of the league table after sending 3,000 fans home with a warm glow.

His focus, and that of his players, must remain on prolonging the honeymoon period and working in much smaller samples.

But given his reputation for meticulous preparation he will also know the wider dynamic in play, and the ripples already reaching rivals who perhaps saw the Canaries imploding and their season in reverse.

It was telling that Mark Robins had no hesitation in bracketing Norwich and Burnley together. Not simply as the Sky Blues’ most recent league opponents, but very clearly in terms of their status.

Vanquished Preston boss Ryan Lowe was no less complimentary the previous weekend, when he labelled the Canaries’ a ‘top three’ outfit after feeling the full force of Wagner’s impact.

The deficit between expectation and reality had become a chasm, and one Smith was never going to bridge.

In his defence, when Norwich travelled to Turf Moor in late October he was dealing with endless injury issues that forced Sam McCallum to start, after only one day’s training, following a lengthy lay off.

Alongside him in a makeshift backline was Jonathan Tomkinson for his senior league debut for the club. The US centre back did not look out of place but in truth Burnley were on a different level.

The pace, the aggression, the clear sense of identity and style of play under Kompany’s guidance was a sobering watch, even if the game was only decided by Jay Rodriguez’s late penalty.

On that night Norwich travelled in hope. When Burnley head south early next month they will encounter a different animal lying in wait.

City, under Wagner, already look all the things they were not under Smith. That is neither uncharitable or a wish to hark back to what has gone before.

But how far they have shifted, and how much is left to go, may become apparent after Wagner’s upcoming league bow at Carrow Road. The clock is ticking.