1-0 wins courtesy of one moment of genius followed by rather more moments of undiluted brawn are rapidly becoming our thing; something that I’m fairly sure wasn’t on Daniel Farke’s CV when he arrived.
Yet wins at the Riverside, Bramall Lane, Portman Road, Ashton Gate and now Griffin Park have all been dug out in that very style. And in four of those five games, one James Maddison has been the one to provide the moment of genius.
That we had a very special talent on our hands was obvious from the day we signed him from Coventry City. A quick check on YouTube revealed this little blond lad who was six inches shorter than anyone else on the pitch but did things with a football most of us (and most of his opponents) can only dream about.
Along that very same path, some talented youngsters fall by the wayside, many in fact, but not Madderz. That precocious lad who made mincemeat out of his mates is now doing that very same thing to seasoned Championship professionals.
All too often we hear ‘no end product’ levelled at young players; plenty of tricks and flicks but an incommensurate number of goals and assists. Not with Madderz. He’s delivering right now by the bucketload; every dropped shoulder, every twist and turn and every goal adding to his already soaring value.
With only three days to go in the January window it now appears conceivable that he will still be here on Wednesday morning – although still time for a late buy and loan-back I guess – and how wonderful will it be if we can squeeze another three and a bit months out of this extraordinary young man.
Not since the days of Eadie, Sutton and Bellamy have we had such hot property on our hands and I’d even argue that Madderz has it within him to usurp the three of them in terms of how far he can go. That he’s a special talent is obvious; less so quite how much he ‘gets’ Norwich City and its supporters.
Unlike others who have departed the Fine City in haste – some in the very recent past – Maddison gives off the air of someone who actually likes being here and who has embraced everything the club and the fans stand for. And for all the swagger and flair he shows on the pitch, everything he does off it screams ‘humble’ and ‘grounded’. When he goes it will be with our best wishes.
Yet there was far more to admire yesterday than Maddison’s stunning strike, even if most of it had more to do with guts, bottle and desire than silky skills.
With Ivo Pinto falling victim to a getting-out-of-the-car injury, the right wing-back stripes were handed to Harrison Reed and, in the midst of a few question marks around his suitability to the role of Alex Tettey’s right hand man, the Southampton loanee turned in, in adversity, one of his best City performances.
Understandably, from a positional sense he wasn’t always on point and that a few too many crosses came in from the Brentford left in a nervy first-half spell was clear, but he dug in, listened to those around him and ended up being the very epitome of another away performance of organisation and steel.
The back three were simply magnificent in their efforts to repel the buoyant Bees and, with Angus only really being called into serious action late on, it was a rearguard action of composure and confidence. Despite soaking up long spells of home pressure it was void of too many dramas and largely free of the shredded nerves that have accompanied some of the other away wins. There is now a belief and an expectation of clean sheets.
I’ve made clear my reservations around a back three – ‘often vacates too much space out wide’ blah de blah – but yesterday that extra body in the box when the flak was flying was invaluable. I lost count of the number of times a flying Klose, Zimmermann or Hanley blocked and tackled, and despite having 22 shots, the Bees only troubled Angus six times. Ratios like that don’t happen by accident.
Another surprising hero emerged… a Portuguese one who has built himself a reputation for being a bit selfish and stroppy. One who has been accused in the past of not putting in a shift. Yet a new side of Nelson Oliveira was on show yesterday; the chaser of lost causes, the battler, the take-one-for-the-team kind of guy. And fair play.
The presence of one Dennis Srbeny on the bench may, of course, had something to do with it, but regardless of its source, more performances of a similar ilk will hopefully yield a reward or two in the form of some goals.
As it transpired only Moritz Leitner of our three German additions made it into the fray but the presence alone of those new faces will have played their part in yesterday’s win, with there now being a renewed vigour and freshness around the place, in addition to the increased competition for places.
Oddly, still some found cause for complaint – frustrated apparently at City’s lack of “grip” on yesterday’s game – but this was a very decent Brentford outfit who are extremely well drilled and were unbeaten at Griffin Park in 14 games. Those who scoff at wins in that context are detached from the reality of where Norwich City is as a football club right now.
Yesterday’s win also brought about the added bonus of pulling level on points with that lot; again not something to be scoffed at given the significant points advantage they’ve enjoyed (and gloated over) for most of the season.
However, with Boro up next at Carrow Road an altogether different challenge awaits, and while Farke has proven yet again that he’s learned how to set up a side to grind out wins away from Carrow Road on a consistent basis, the big question marks over being sufficiently creative at home remain.
Only when that particular circle has been squared can we look up the table with any serious intent, but with those three German shots in the arm arriving this week, perhaps, just perhaps, all is not yet lost.
In the odd, helter-skelter word of the Championship some strange things happen.