This week marked the five-year anniversary of Norwich City’s remarkable back-to-back promotions.
Five years since that glorious evening at Fratton Park, a night where City’s collective spirit, unity and resilience culminated in that brilliant Simeon Jackson header to send the masses of City fans behind the goal into delirium.
Five years since we defied all the odds, continually refusing to give up and somehow finding a way of overturning deficits and scoring late goals.
Five years since the most memorable Norwich City season of my lifetime.
What a turbulent five years it’s been. Us City fans never see it done the easy way, constantly seeming to have to cope with frequent heartbreak that albeit does serve to make the positive moments even more joyous.
We’ve enjoyed Paul Lambert, endured Chris Hughton and watched on sceptically during the brief Neil Adams epoch. Put simply, we’ve had it difficult since that Bank Holiday Monday evening on the south coast.
Instability and unpredictability has characterised our club, a team who often appear capable of challenging the elite but then fail to deliver the sufficient consistency to sustain any form of dependable momentum.
We’ve beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford, held the riches of Manchester City to a goalless stalemate, yet also fatally gone down to Aston Villa, Newcastle, Sunderland and Swansea in humiliating circumstances.
It really is painful at times.
Yet some form of hope remains. With three games left in this astonishingly chaotic Premier League season, City are not down and out just yet.
Two of those remaining three games are at home. One is away at a side lacking in confidence, vulnerable at the back and led by a manager under enormous pressure. Somehow, this isn’t over yet.
The mentality that existed amongst that 2011 promotion-winning side was what achieved the astounding feat that season. Yes, we had a talented squad with the talismanic Grant Holt, the innovative Wes Hoolahan and the excellent Andrew Crofts and David Fox in midfield, but it was City’s relentless tenacity, psychological strength and fundamental perseverance that saw us promoted.
We all remember that series of late, late goals, that seemed to become increasingly inevitable as the season progressed and our team’s never-say-die attitude became palpable for us.
Games against Burnley, Coventry, Millwall, Bristol City and of course Derby County will live long in the memory, providing us with a fervent sense of hope that our squad today can emulate such phenomenal turnarounds.
How we’d love to see that emulated now. Whilst it may only be Russell Martin, John Ruddy and Hoolahan who haven’t been offloaded by the club in the last five years, the group of players we possess today do have that ardent sense of spirit, unity, tenacity and desire inside them somewhere.
We saw it against West Brom, where we defended brilliantly for 90+ minutes to keep our first away clean sheet. We saw it at Old Trafford, where we somehow thwarted the continual United attacks at the death to create a historic day for our club.
And most recently, we saw it at home to Newcastle, where that spirit of 2011 felt like it had been replicated as Martin Olsson’s strike snuck into the far corner.
We need more, though. True, Timm Klose and Alex Tettey were heavily involved in those fixtures where that sense of unity and spirit has manifested itself, but Gary O’Neill has proved – his idiocy at the Britannia aside – to be a superb replacement for the Norwegian midfielder.
Although Klose is proving a greater miss, we have achieved Premier League safety with a back four that included Sebastian Bassong and Russell Martin in the past.
I haven’t given up hope just yet.
Should we recreate those values and ideals of 2010-11 in our next two home games, six points is a genuinely viable possibility. Manchester United are beatable, as we showed in December as well as in both 2005 and 2012.
Chris Smalling may be a good defender, but he is susceptible to errors, whilst Daley Blind and Marcus Rojo have demonstrated their ineptitude on multiple occasions throughout the season.
Likewise, the floodlit Watford game is certainly winnable, with Flores under surprising yet considerable pressure and the team with nothing to play for. Indeed, the magnitude of the match next Wednesday is profound, theoretically appearing to be our least difficult fixture remaining.
Norwich City can do it. We all know the issues that exist: we do not have a consistent goal scorer and our defence minus Klose looks alarmingly fragile, but we should have faith in this group of players.
Alex Neil will have to get his team selection right, picking Nathan Redmond and Hoolahan owing to the superior creativity and threat they bring over the ineffective Steven Naismith and Matt Jarvis. Dieumerci Mbokani or Patrick Bamford – if it – must start over the profligate Cameron Jerome.
Should Neil employ his most dangerous attackers, we have every chance of acquiring points from the next two games. Redmond and Hoolahan will cause United problems in a boisterous Carrow Road on Saturday lunchtime. Bassong was much improved at the Emirates at the weekend, and should Ryan Bennett return to fitness, Russell Martin’s adjustment to full-back will give us a reasonably solid back four to suppress the threat of Anthony Martial and co.
But above team selection comes attitude.
It’s been five years since that wonderful night that saw City achieve the impossible and get promoted for a second season running.
If our team recapture those players’ ideals of collective spirit, unity and tenacity in our remaining three fixtures, we have every chance of defying the odds once again.