For the half-a-dozen strong group of mid-twenty-year olds stood a few rows behind me at Molineux, Wednesday night’s events would serve to prove rather interesting indeed.
For twenty-five minutes of relative optimism, they sung. For many of those minutes they complained, berating the remaining 600 travelling fans for failing to join in with their laudable albeit slightly repetitive chanting. Then, at 2-0 down and for twenty more minutes of first-half frustration, they comically departed for the concourse. For the subsequent half of City domination, they were nowhere to be seen.
And what a performance they missed. While such midweek Black Country vocality did successfully foster some form of – albeit limited – atmosphere, it was almost as though this City team responded to their display of disillusionment with the resilience and tenacity of a team resonant of the Lambert epoch.
For sixty Molineux minutes, Farke’s men were superb.
To these fans, a failure to exercise one’s vocal chords at an away game renders you disloyal. To them – and to many others I see across the country following Norwich – away games are not so much about the football as they are a day of singing, goading and drinking. Nonsense.
Of course, there is a combination between the two to be struck here, but surely this morning the group were regretting their impetuous decision to leave so early.
While at The Den, Villa Park and on the grim Friday night in south Wales, City crumbled in the face of adversity. Last night in the midlands they did not. Despite an uncharacteristically shaky performance in the derby and his culpability for the first goal last night, Christoph Zimmerman recovered terrifically.
Although uncertain at times, Grant Hanley and Timm Klose continued to thrive as part of an ever-improving back three. Albeit with limited efficacy on occasion, Moritz Leitner and James Maddison sought to continually create. That second-half was a near-complete performance from City, a manifestation of the philosophy Farke desired to inculcate his players with and further evidence that we really are on an upward path.
I have been accused by readers of writing hyperbolically in recent weeks, which, to be honest and given my youth-induced juvenility, may well be a fair comment. With that in mind, I won’t get carried away here: although City dominated possession throughout that second period and during last parts of the first, most of the passing was conducted laterally, slowly and within alarmingly close quarters.
We acutely lacked width, looking so much more threatening once both Josh Murphy and Onel Hernandez were introduced.
Indeed, this is the area that Farke – I’m sure – is aware he needs to improve. He has drastically solidified the defence. The Hanley, Zimmerman, Klose trio is flourishing as a system. Although this improvement appears to have come at the expense of stifling our attacking creativity, we must have confidence that over time – whether it be this season or next – such a shortcoming will be similarly addressed.
You need pace to succeed in the Championship. Just look at last night’s opponents, whose ability to move the ball and break with such speed through the likes of Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Diogo Jota has seen them rise to nine points clear at the league’s summit. City’s style is the antithesis of this at present, characterised by such a wealth of possession but without the urgency or penetration to really threaten on a regular basis.
But last night shouldn’t be about debating our limitations. Instead, it should be about praising that tenacity, resilience and indefatigability that Farke’s much-publicised double-sessions have invariably facilitated. It should be about revelling in the way we controlled the ball so effortlessly throughout the second-half, and about celebrating that late, late strike by our mercurial striker.
When Oliveira teed himself up from what felt like a full forty yards, I murmured ‘please don’t shoot’ and semi-turned away in anger. The final moments of the game, with men up in support, and he’d chosen to opt for what we all expected to be another exhibition of profligacy that has been a contributory factor in his barren goal scoring run.
What happened next, however, triggered sheer pandemonium up in the Molineux gods.
What had been a relatively subdued away end was transformed into a sea of yellow and green ecstasy, a change albeit assisted by John Ruddy’s poor handling but one in which those who created it could not care less about.
Against a team saturated with lucrative Portuguese acquisitions, it was our own player from the nation who came up trumps. City had their deserved point. Nelson, all is forgiven.
Where do City go from here? Whisper it quietly, but a win against lowly Bolton on Saturday combined with Hull and Cardiff victories over the stalling Sheffield United and Bristol City respectively would leave us just five points off the top six.
Our next five fixtures are all winnable. Yes, given our chronic lack of goals and any real bite in the final third the prospect of an assault on the league’s elite may seem far-fetched, but it would take a pessimist to declare this season completely over.
In City’s fiercest test of the season so far, our men stood up to be counted. When faced with a two-goal deficit, a raucous and sell-out home crowd and a largely forgettable first twenty-five minutes, we rallied.
There is work still to be done. However, for us travelling fans and all those following through other mediums around the world, we can only hope last night’s display was a positive glimpse into the future.