So, the gamble paid off… just.
Daniel Farke put it all on black and, despite it popping in and out of red a couple of times before the wheel stopped spinning, on black it finally settled.
Cue one massive, collective sigh.
The fine margins for which City have invariably come out the wrong side for once favoured them and it was a New Year’s Day of triumph rather than the disaster many had predicted. The ‘along come Norwich’ that featured in every half-time conversation – that Millwall hadn’t won away from home all season – didn’t thankfully become a thing.
The general consensus seemed to be that City were awful in the first half and actually quite good in the second but I disagree. I thought for the first half an hour the football was thoroughly decent. Okay, so it was a bit more laboured and deliberate than perhaps we would have liked but we retained possession comfortably, had little trouble in keeping Millwall at arm’s length and, crucially, we were making Jordan Archer make some saves.
The only defensive issues were around the diagonals from left to right that were aimed at the head of Steve Morison – presumably designed to isolate him against Jamal Lewis, yet which caused horrific problems for Timm Klose – but in truth that was the Lions’s one and only threat.
That Morison scored was not a massive surprise – football doing its thing again – but no-one expected it to be a 30-yard corker. Some tried to point the finger at Angus, but no way – looked unstoppable from my vantage point behind that River End goal.
Given the quite nice reception he was afforded, the goal celebration did seem a little OTT but let’s not forget he was given the Russell Martin treatment (and some) for the latter part of his stay here… and it was a bloody good strike.
Half-time whistle = Boos from the River End. Standard. Even though on this occasion it was undeserved.
Thankfully the malcontents had little to get their teeth into in the second half and once Tom Trybull’s excellent header – from James Maddison’s beautifully whipped-in free kick – had looped beyond Archer, City were very much in the ascendancy and there looked likely to be only one winner.
With Angus a virtual spectator it was a question of whether we could find a way to break down a stubborn Millwall back line and for a while it looked as if that ‘bloody ‘tippy-tappy stuff ™’ [intellectual property of the River End] could be used to create an opening.
As it transpired they left it quite late but when it did it was a thing of beauty in both its creation and execution; Alex Pritchard’s reverse pass being so perfectly weighted Maddison was able to hit it first-time without checking his stride.
With Millwall’s approach being of the route one variety there were always going to be a few nervous moments late on but they were generally dealt with comfortably, Grant Hanley again excelling in the heart of that City defence.
The final whistle brought joy interspersed with relief. Minus that Maddison strike it would have been tetchy to say the least upon the final blast of Steve Martin’s whistle but instead the River End had little to get its teeth into. It was a win and it was a deserved win. For once City’s domination of possession did count in their favour.
Seven points from nine over the Festive period was a decent return and while there is clearly nervousness over what January may bring at least the ship is not currently taking on water. For now at least the waters are calm and any angst is saved for for issues off the pitch rather than on it.
The fact the squad is coming together a little in terms of players returning to both fitness and form is also one massive positive, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Josh Murphy’s contribution yesterday.
With the added responsibility of having to keep one eye on his protection duties of Jamal Lewis, he has responded with a hitherto unseen maturity. An incident early on when Jamal looked to have been beaten but managed just to get a toe in to put the ball out for a corner was rewarded with a slap on the back from Josh. A small, almost insignificant gesture, but for me a telling one. Here was a young man emerging from a slump, one who was there to encourage and bail out a young team-mate.
The body language was much improved, the desire and tenacity were there, so too the shooting boots. The standing ovation he was given when he was sensibly given a late hook by Daniel Farke – one that gave Carrow Road a chance to show its appreciation – was moving and heartfelt. He’ll have more bad days, wingers always do, but hopefully we’ve seen the last of the sulker of a few weeks ago.
A flying Josh offers us width – a rare commodity in this team – and that was one of the main differences between yesterday’s performance and the one against Brentford. The route of attack was not simply restricted to the width of the penalty box.
Tetbull did their thing again and there is no question that the platform they offer for the attacking talent in the side to do their thing is the best the squad has to offer; the quality of Maddison and Pritchard needs no further description.
So, one of the good days. Let’s enjoy it. Daniel ultimately called it right, even though many of us had our doubts.
For now the ship has been steadied.