Upon the departure of Chris Hughton much was made of any new regime playing the ‘Norwich way’. While what that precisely is remains open to debate, the general consensus seems to be it’s attractive, attacking football.
What isn’t the Norwich way – at least hasn’t been of late – is the ability to grasp a victory, against all the odds, from the jaws of defeat (or at least a draw).
The statos out there may inform me otherwise, but the last time I can recall City winning with ten men in similar fashion is back in the League One winning season when Chris Martin (remember him?) scored a late Carrow Road winner to overcome Brentford; Grant Holt having seen red in the first-half.
But that was a little different. Yesterday’s win was away from home and the opponents were league-leaders.
Throw into the mix the fact the new manager put his stamp on proceedings once City were reduced to ten men and the match was won by absolute corker, and I’m unsure if the winning feeling gets much better.
Alex Neil, who until Jonny Howson’s 63rd minute dismissal viewed proceedings from the Dean Court director’s box, had been offered a reasonable snapshot of City’s season. Some decent possession, some decent football but a horrible knack of switching off in the defensive third when it matters most.
In fairness, one aspect that did appear to have changed, even from minute one – and is typical of players with a new manager to impress – was the desire. And this came further to the fore in the final 27 minutes.
The plaudits will naturally head toward the new manager, who we’re told did speak to the players before the game and at half-time, but as Neil himself admitted this was largely the Mike Phelan and Gary Holt show.
They spent the week, in fairly unsettling circumstances it has to be said, setting up a team that would deny the Championship’s pass-masters too much time and comfort on the ball and to a large extent it worked; Eddie Howe admitted as much post-match and the remnants of Team Adams can be quietly pleased with their week’s work.
It was fitting of course that the new manager should impact proceedings when needed and with the game plan ripped to shreds thanks to Chris Foy’s controversial sending-off of Howson, it was a case of all hands to the pumps as City entered crisis-mode.
And how they responded.
Roared on by the Yellow Army on one side of the pitch and a passionate, animated Scot the other, City’s players showed heart and guts hitherto unseen; qualities that deserted them at the back end the Adams era.
Yet while the battling and fight on display would have been enough to see the Canaries through to a valuable point it still needed a moment of genius to win the game and Cameron Jerome’s winner fitted that description perfectly.
There appeared little danger for the Cherries as it dropped for Jerome 20 yards out but a decent touch, an unerring swoosh of his right boot and the sight of the the ball joyously arcing beyond the reach Artur Boruc sent the travelling Y’Army into raptures; the same hardy bunch who seven days earlier were witness to the lame surrender at Deepdale.
And it’s those loyal foot soldiers for whom days like yesterday make it all worthwhile; their reward for all the joyless, futile trips to the four corners.
The trick now of course is for it not to be a one-off and for it not to be just the immediate bounce afforded by a new manager. Things will change, they’re bound to, and despite the good job done by Phelan and Holt it’s clear that more of what’s gone before won’t be sufficient for a promotion push.
Neil spoke post-match of having identified some elements that needed to be improved upon, and one can can be sure that Messrs Whittaker and Johnson will be asked to explain their respective roles in the Bournemouth goal, but what he will have learned from yesterday is that when this bunch are ‘on it’ they are capable of beating anyone in the division.
However the task that lies ahead for the new man is a very different one to that which he left behind in Hamilton. The Accies squad comprises a group of lads with whom he has worked with since many were just seventeen; lads who hung on his every word.
The task now is different – the players in the main experienced professionals – but still the need to motivate, to cajole, to organise and to win games of football remains. And it’s clear from his general demeanour, and also his introductory interview at Colney, that he is no respecter of reputations or those high up in the dressing room hierarchy.
It’s a little too easy to over-eulogise after such victories but perspective is a slippery beast at times like this. Whether we’re on the cusp of another thrilling ride or another false dawn will only be revealed in the next few months but there’s no denying the Neil era began in the most thrilling way imaginable. And long may it continue.
I’ll leave the final word to Manchester-based City fan Marc Bicker (@Bicker89) whose tweet of the day summed it all up perfectly: “Norwich beat top of the league away with 10 men and Ipswich lose on TV to a Chris Martin goal. If Carlsberg did Saturdays… #ncfc“
“On the Ball City…”