We don’t have to wind the clock back very far to find a City side that played under the ‘too nice’ banner. One we bemoaned was a little too easy to play against, that lacked an ‘edge’, that was just a tad too compliant and non-confrontational.
Not any more.
It seems that wherever we go now controversy follows, not to mention frothing opposition managers, rattled officials and opposition fans who are apoplectic with rage.
Sheffield Utd, Ipswich (of course), Boro (twice), Reading, Chelsea (yes, really), Brentford and Derby. Take your pick. All been peed off by us at some stage this season to varying degrees.
And it’s brilliant.
The vitriol hurled in the direction of James Maddison on social media last night by Derby fans – stoked up it has to be said by Gary Rowett’s own skewed take on events – was arguably the pick of the bunch for its sheer level of venom and ugliness and one can only wonder what levels they are capable of reaching if they actually lose.
Instead, they should have been thanking their lucky stars that they escaped a second-half pummeling with a point because that second 45 was right up there with anything as good as we have produced all season.
With the added silkiness and class of Moritz Leitner another layer looks to have been added to something that was already coming together quite nicely – certainly if yesterday was anything to go by.
Make no mistake, despite Derby’s lukewarm effort they are automatic promotion hopefuls for a reason. While they may not be pleasing on the eye, they are functional, efficient and have, under Rowett’s tutelage, become a cohesive Championship force. They tick most of the right boxes – some that, to be fair, we don’t.
That the Rams were hanging on for long spells of that second half was a useful barometer of City’s progress. In what has been a fitful season, where apparent upturns have been cancelled out and some by even acuter downturns, the upward curve now feels real.
Context is everything of course – key to this good mini-run has been one Master Maddison – and it’s hard to get too carried away when the reality is this team will have some key components ripped out of it in the summer. Yet with 15 games left in this season we, as fans, simply have to make the most out of watching this team evolve.
Further context was there for all to see in yesterday’s first half when for the opening 20 minutes it was really quite disjointed and ugly at times. Leitner and Maddison found themselves wanting the ball in the same areas, the overall passing was too slow and the ball was given away far too regularly.
Matej Vydra’s goal was not without its faults either from a defensive angle – a rarity of late it should be said – and there was an element of carelessness on display that would have had the miserablists licking their lips, but once the heads were cleared and a rhythm found the white and black tide was well and truly stemmed.
That Angus had just two saves to make in 95 minutes tells the story.
As events unfolded it could and should have been better for City and but for the Nelson Oliveira penalty incident that so enraged Rowett we could easily be heading to the derby off the back of five wins out of six games.
Unfortunately, Nelson’s penalty only served to offer Scott Carson some very gentle catching practise and gave further ammunition to the Oliveira naysayers.
Most will disagree, but I think he was the right person to take the pen. He’s one of two designated penalty takers – him and Maddison – and if one is involved in the incident leading to the penalty then other will take it. That’s what Daniel Farke has determined and so that’s what should happen. And if we don’t think our one striker in the side is capable of taking a pen then he shouldn’t be in the side in the first place.
That he needs a goal is obvious, so too that his confidence in front of goal is low, but these are hardened pros who are paid to perform. There is no scope to stop him half-way along his run up and say ‘sorry son, your body language is all wrong, let someone else take it’.
All goalscorers go through droughts. Even the best.
I’d be more concerned if right now his all-round contribution was poor and he wasn’t putting in a shift, but it isn’t and he is. He may not be the long-term solution – I don’t think that Farke and Webber see him as that – but while Dennis Srbeny is still learning the ropes he’s our best bet to be the lone striker and we have to suck it up. Maybe even give him our support.
When the equaliser did arrive – and let’s not forget that Oliveira played his part in that move – it was a referee’s whistle blast away from being a thing of real beauty. Luckily Jeremy Simpson’s premature whistle didn’t impact on City pulling level, and the swagger with which first Leitner and then Maddison put the ball in the Derby net typified their second-half performances.
A late winner would have naturally been nice but it was a performance to be proud of and the signs are good.
We now, of course, have to brace ourselves for seven days of sniping, with various Ipswich Town legends being wheeled out on a daily basis to remind of their history in the hope of getting under our collective skin.
Let’s not let them. Let’s not engage. Give them their moment… all 13,000 of them.