The Class of 2018 may not be making too many friends along the way but in their own gritty, defiant way there is no escaping that things are shaping up very nicely thank you very much.
Five consecutive Championship clean sheets is a ridiculous run when you consider its starting point, but there’s more to this groundswell of momentum than clean sheets alone. There’s now a togetherness and a collective desire that’s light years away from the ragtag, brittle, error prone shower that capitulated at Villa Park and the New Den.
Angus, for his part, has been simply magnificent since straining his back (through little fault of his own it has to be said) in the second city and Bermondsey, and it’s his name that will sit proudly alongside those five zeros in the record books, but he’ll be the first to laud those in front of him.
In that now much talked about international break some serious soul searching took place in the corridors of Colney, all in the wake of what I understand was the “riot act” being read by Stuart Webber to Daniel Farke on the touchline of a by then deserted New Den.
The upshot of said ‘chat’ was not only the costly arrival of Grant Hanley but a shift of mindset and a relaxing of ideals. It wouldn’t have been done lightly.
Upon his arrival Farke went to great lengths to spell out his Utopian view of the game – dominating possession, working it through the thirds, pass-pass-pass from back to front – but five games in it was not working and it didn’t appear it was about to. Either the penny hadn’t dropped for those tasked with delivering said style or those same players were not equipped to deliver it, or it simply wasn’t a style conducive to winning games of Championship football.
As it transpired the aforementioned soul searching delivered changes to all three elements; nothing that compromised his core philosophy but still changes that enabled a defensive set-up that was simply all over the place to become one that’s now not conceded a goal for nearly eight hours.
The first part – the penny dropping – will have formed the core of many a Colney coaching session since the New Den debacle and work around how Team Farke want this team to perform with the ball is far more evident now that it was a month ago. Now, every player appears to know his own role within the set-up, understands the roles of others and how the coach wants it to work.
But none of it would have worked without them conceding ground in their desire to embed a German style in the most English of English leagues. That there are now two defensive midfield players instead of the lone, stricken figure of the blameless Harrison Reed has clearly been key – even if it does come at the expense of an attacking midfielder – but so to the recalling of Alex Tettey.
While Tom Trybull has clearly, and deservedly, taken the plaudits, the guy in the trench next to him has quietly gone about his business in the only way he knows how. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as some would like, and he will give the ball away occasionally, but what Tettey brings to this new party is priceless – especially away from home and especially at places, like Middlebrough, where you know you’re going to be under the cosh.
If I’m honest, I was struggling to picture the Norwegian’s place in this brave new world, and wouldn’t have baulked if he had been one of the summer departees, but right now the horses for courses approach to either him or Reed slotting in alongside Trybull is working better than anyone could ever have imagined.
Yet in addition to the tactical tweaks and the changes in personnel, assisted significantly with the timely return of a fit Timm Klose, there has been an even more seismic shift – in the mindset. The others were tactical and material changes but it was changing what was occurring between the ears that was the biggest defensive challenge. And five clean sheets in a row suggests it’s one that has been achieved.
It’s been a very long time, probably going back to the Lambert years, since a City side has displayed a never-say-die attitude as witnessed over the last few games; bodies on the line and bravery now occurring as a matter of course rather than something out of the ordinary, epitomised by the thankless but pivotal running and chasing of Cameron Jerome.
Last night said bravery, guts and heart reached a deafening crescendo. And in addition to the usual suspects stepping up to the plate, new heroes emerged. James Husband – him of the indifferent start to his City career – was given the sternest of tests from the flying Adama Traoré yet emerged with his colours flying, ably assisted by the hard work and energy of Marley Watkins, another who has frequented the indifferent category too often this season.
But the heroes didn’t end there. The 428 who made the biggest sacrifice were simply magnificent. BBC Radio Norfolk’s Phil Daley did them the service, as the game entered its final moments, of turning up the effects microphone and to hear On the Ball City ringing around the Riverside with such gusto and pride was sufficient to make the hairs on the back of the next stand up.
And then for it all to be rounded off with a Farke-induced huddle in the centre circle before, as one, the group made their way over to the away fans was a fitting way to end a memorable night, made more special by the quality of the brilliant James Maddison’s winning goal.
Boro are a good side, one awash with quality and will be right up there come the day of reckoning, so to beat them in their own back yard when they are not in the habit of losing there was almost as good as it gets.
This is starting to build.
Never mind the danger…