Hard pressed City boss Neil Adams can sleep slightly easier in his bed tonight after the Canaries finally rediscovered the art of winning ugly with a 1-0 away win at Wigan Athletic.
Jonny Howson’s fifth minute strike proved all that it took to prise all three points out of Malky Mackay’s Latics.
An hour and a half later and that much questioned defence had held out for the victory and the good ship Canary was starting to float off the rocks.
It took some big decisions team-wise to end that wretched run of late – not least to plonk Michael Turner on the bench to accommodate the return of Carlos Cueller alongside skipper Russell Martin at centre-half.
In midfield, Adams re-visited the whole Gary O’Neil debate as the former Rangers and Portsmouth star found himself back on centre stage with Bradley Johnson adding the width on the left-side – all at the expense of the youthful wing play offered by Masters Redmond and Murphy.
From a distance it was a side built to do a specific job. Don’t lose.
In the event it did that and then some – giving Adams a sorely needed pre-Xmas boost with City finishing the afternoon in a half-decent eighth. And all a mere two points off the play-off places again.
“It wasn’t a classic,” said Adams afterwards, as the Canaries collected their first win away from home since the end of September and the 3-1 success at Blackpool.
Dispensing with natural wingers was always going to dim the entertainment lights; but as the winter starts to take hold, so the Championship invariably does away with such niceties.
Expect more of the same – certainly away from home. Back at base and the new-look Adams-Phelan combination still have points to prove. One who did that today was keeper John Ruddy who stood up tall to all that both Wigan and social media could throw at him.
“It was a professional performance from the players,” added the City chief. “We got the tactics right – and we got the team right.
“And we cut out the individual errors that have cost us points in the past.”
The fact that City never extended that slender lead and have still to regain the swash-buckle of the summer will be of no concern to either manager or board.
Results are everything. And today’s result meant everything – certainly within the Adams household. It hasn’t been an easy time for the club’s FA Youth Cup winning coach.
And there were risks with that team selection. Had James Perch converted one of a number of second-half chances, then going strong and solid would still have yielded no more than a point. One win in ten would have been one in eleven. The knives would have sharpened again.
And in Howson the manager has a player coming back into both form and fortune just in the nick of time. Today’s opener off a decent piece of play from a willing Hooper, was his third goal in four games. With the City frontline still in cough and splutter mode, Howson is likely to be the first name on Adams’ team-sheet – certainly in midfield.
Getting the balance right there on a consistent basis remains one of the coaching staff’s bigger challenges. At some point, they will also have to factor W Hoolahan back into their thinking.
So whether this is a corner turned is, of course, the $64 million question.
Wigan aren’t exactly the happiest of ships as their charismatic chairman Dave Whelan riled more than a few with his decision to hand Mackay a route back into football management following the bitter and poisonous end to his time at Cardiff.
But in many ways, those are the kind of breaks Adams needs – to play the right teams at the right time. Wigan fitted the bill to a T; arguably a little ill-at-ease with themselves, they were second best for much of the opening period – particularly once Howson had delivered his crucial, early strike.
As the game drove on beyond half-time with little for the home faithful to cheer, so the Latics finally started to test Norwich’ resolve that more often. Time for the more defensive-minded mean machine of O’Neil, Johnson and Alexander Tettey to dig in.
Up front and Adams remained true to his natural attacking instincts and declined to throw in a more conservative substitute as Kyle Lafferty and Josh Murphy replaced Hooper and Cameron Jerome. The latter has still to rediscover his scoring touch, but points means prizes.
And, in terms of Adams’ fortunes, these three points are as big as they come.
The season of ill-will to certain men needs to blow over quickly if Norwich intend to do anything on their return to the Championship.