The sight of Bradley Johnson walloping one in from twenty yards confirmed it was going to be one of the Carrow Road good days.
All too often over the last few seasons such chances have been of more danger to those in row M and upwards, but Carrow Road’s new darling thumped it home with the swagger of one playing at the top of his game. And he is. But he’s not alone.
That elusive and fragile beast known as confidence has, in the space of just under a month, returned in spades and in that time City have been transformed from a side in freefall to one that has those in the top six looking nervously over their shoulders.
At least they should be.
To have scored six but still be considered profligate in front of goal speaks volumes. Millwall were woeful, no question, but so too were Charlton, Rotherham, Leeds and Brighton – home games from which Norwich earned a grand total of three points – and so to scoff because they didn’t reach double-figures is a tad unfair.
The same tabloids who at the end of November quite rightly considered us ‘beleaguered’ and ‘in crisis’ are now describing us as resurgent and in-form. And, for once, the Christmas spirit in the Fine City has spanned almost the whole of December; only Reading (a) standing in the way of an unbeaten and profitable end to the year.
Interestingly, while it appeared miraculous that after such a dire run of form City still found themselves within touching distance of the play-off positions, a run of three wins and a draw still leaves them outside the top six. Perhaps we had underestimated the damage done by the bad run.
But, regardless of what’s gone before, it does now feel as if, just maybe, the corner has been turned. The feelgood factor has undoubtedly returned and those heading to the Madejski Stadium will be expecting another win; one that will help erase the memories of that dark November day when Neil Adams’ tenure appeared, from the outside at least, to be hanging by a fairly slender thread.
Rightly or wrongly the arrival of Mike Phelan just a few days prior to said home defeat was perceived to have helped save the manager’s skin, on the premise of giving a change in the management time to bear fruit.
The effect of that same addition to Team Adams now appears to have done rather more than just steady the ship. The Phelan-factor is now impossible to ignore.
Adams himself spoke – eloquently as always – of the change in approach and, while avoiding direct reference to Phelan’s input, it was clear that Fergie’s right-hand man quickly identified the need to make City harder to beat. And since those changes have been successfully embedded we’ve barely looked back.
And Adams himself now has the demeanour of a man more comfortable in his surroundings. The ‘old head’ alongside him in the dugout, and in the Colney ‘bootroom’, has had an impact that even David McNally could not have envisaged.
All of which suggests that the loss of Joe Royle on the eve of the new season cut deeper than most of thought – perhaps even deeper than McNally and the board imagined too. Adams was being asked to learn on the job but was not afforded a mentor to lean on when the going got tough.
Now he has one, and we are all prospering as a result.
As ever, when you have momentum the challenge is to retain it and a trip to Reading, on paper at least, presents a more than decent opportunity to do just that. Since *that* win at Carrow Road the Royals have failed to win and have been on the receiving end of a 6-1.
They have neither form nor momentum. And we owe them one.
Off the back of a good run the temptation for Adams would be to go as ‘unchanged’ as possible but with Carlos Cuellar unable to complete the full 95 yesterday enforced changes look likely. In his post-match interview the manager indicated that yesterday’s absentee, Alex Tettey, will again miss out and spoke of taking a squad of 22 to Berkshire.
We should therefore expect a tweak or two to the starting XI, although the rests afforded to Johnson, Gary O’Neil and Cameron Jerome suggest all will feature. Crucially the good run of form has extended to those whose contribution of late has been from coming off the bench and the likes of Wes Hoolahan and Lewis Grabban will be itching for a start tomorrow afternoon.
So… after a turbulent autumn the mini-revival continues and a win at the Maejski and I’ll feel able to drop the ‘mini’.
It feels good and let’s not concern ourselves too much with what happening to those currently in or around second place in the table. There are still 69 points to play for and right now, with the wind in the right direction, I wouldn’t consider a top two place out of the question for City.
But one step at a time…