There is something hugely satisfying about getting a rise out of Neil Warnock anytime. But to get one while snaffling our first three points on the road since 1st October was a huge, fat, juicy bonus.
For the travelling Yellow Army those 126 days between away wins will have felt like an eternity but that particular ghost was laid to rest yesterday in the most functional, attritional and unsightly way possible. And in its own way it was brilliant.
As fellow MFW columnist, Mick Dennis, concluded, we ‘out-Warnocked’, Warnock – something that even a month ago would have been an impossibility.
And another thing… unless I’m mistaken we’re gradually becoming more solid at the back. Okay, so Birmingham were a little wasteful but as things have panned out this season two consecutive clean sheets are not to be sniffed at.
We’re not expecting them to concede zero chance – this is the Championship after all – but we were justified in expecting them to concede fewer chances. And over the last three games that box has been ticked.
Let’s also not forget John Ruddy’s role in this recent upturn.
Right now there is no question over who is City’s first-choice keeper and with authority and belief coursing through his veins once again it was no surprise when he saved from Craig Noone when he dangerously broke into City’s box late on.
One criticism leveled at Ruddy over the last couple of seasons is that he doesn’t make enough game-changing saves – those that you don’t necessarily expect him to make – but the Noone save was a classic example. It’s good to have the Big Man back.
Timm Klose is another who after a spell in the Colney doldrums has found some form at the right time.
Ironically his now burgeoning partnership with Russell Martin was, back in October, one of the root causes of the downturn but after a spell where their stripes were handed to Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett, the current pairing are in ‘first names on the team-sheet’ territory.
The Swiss international unquestionably found it tough to acclimatize to the physicality and intensity of the Championship – and he’ll not be looking forward to being reacquainted with Daryl Murphy on Valentine’s Day – but since returning to the side he’s grown into the role of a robust second-tier centre-back who just happens to possess a touch of class.
But it’s not class that gets you out of this division. It’s qualities at the other end of the spectrum that do so – those in the Warnock envelope – and, while it’s taken a full six months, the penny looks like it has finally dropped.
To continue with the Timm example, in the Premier League even teams who adopt the high press will likely give a centre-back time to take a touch or two if he receives the ball off his keeper. No such luxury in the Championship – it’s crash, bang, wallop time.
And on the rare occasion a hopeful, hanging cross is slung into the box in the top tier, Klose, if his starting position was decent, would have trusted himself to win the header. No such luxury in the Championship – a clattering is almost guaranteed.
And, of course, balls that are slid down the channel in the Premier League are usually dealt with by standing up and showing your opponent ‘away’ from goal. No such luxury in the Championship – as Murphy demonstrated so ably, it’ll instantly become a shoulder-to-shoulder battle of strength and will.
The difference between the Klose of October 2016 and February 2017 version is marked. And significant.
That Mitchell Dijks was able to come in at left-back after just three days worth of training and equip himself so ably in said battle was also a welcome bonus, and suggests those few days at Colney were well spent.
He’ll do it differently to Olsson but hopefully he’ll do it with a similar level of success with added oomph when defending far post crosses. My gut tells me we’ll only have him for three and a bit months, but we’ll see.
Yanic Wildschut had, by all accounts, a less eye-catching debut but in the greater scheme of things appears less of a risk, which for £7 million is kind of what you expect. But he’ll have his mettle tested at the DW on Tuesday night and how he comes through that will give us an early indication to the success, or otherwise, of Ricky Martin’s dossier. Here’s hoping.
Elsewhere it was another notch on the score-sheet for Cameron Jerome who is rapidly careering toward a double-figure goal return for the season. He may not be everybody’s cup of tea but his willingness to constantly put himself in the firing line has to be applauded and at this level he’s a handful, no question.
And (fortunately) he’s not afraid to miss. Others who have endured runs and reputations of missing ‘sitters’ have buckled and hid. No such thing from Jerome who is as mentally tough as they come. That eight-goal Oliveira currently finds himself on the bench speaks volumes for the manager’s level of trust in Jerome.
So, while all appears a tad unsettled behind the scenes (a column for another day) there is some forward momentum gathering pace. From the darkest of dark places to three wins on the bounce suggests that this season still may some life left in it.
It remains a long shot though. As things stand there looks to be only one play-off place up for grabs and we’re just one of a bunch who are chasing it. If we can take it to the wire that in itself will be some achievement given the greyness of our winter.
Some are suggesting we’ve ‘turned a corner’. I’d say we’re gingerly negotiating a blind bend.
Never mind the danger…