It’s a rare occasion when following defeat the Yellow Army departs Carrow Road with spring in the step and pride in the heart, but yesterday was one of those.
Entirely in keeping with the well-deserved standing ovation and hearty rendition of On the Ball City at the final whistle, the mood was positive and, bar a few numpties who still saw fit to pick holes and find fault, pride appeared the overriding emotion.
And quite right too.
While City didn’t quite have enough in the tank to come back from a goal down to make it eight unbeaten, there was still so much to admire about the performance, one that was still full of verve and belief in spite of the aching limbs and tired minds.
The international break has for once come at the right time – in fact, we could have done with it one game earlier – but what it must now do is serve as a launch pad for another sustained run of good performances and, hopefully, results.
What we don’t need is yesterday’s unfortunate defeat putting a dent in the collective confidence, which of late has been positively oozing. Stoke got away with one, and they know it, but to be fair it was a composed defensive display that, as the game wore on, saw City slowly run out of ideas.
From a footballing perspective, it was a no-contest but in this age of stats and data, there still remains only one stat that matters.
The amount of possession, touches in the opponent’s box, expected goals (xG) etc are all very interesting and, of course, play their part in coaching teams being able to analyse performances, but they make no allowance for Timm Klose unintentionally toe-poking a harmless-looking cross past a helpless Tim Krul.
It was just one of those moments. They happen. Those of us who have played have all been there.
And we have to be honest… in this good run, we’ve had the odd break or two. For one to go against us is gutting at the time but just part of football. One to be taken on the chin.
Instead, we should look at where we were when we went into the last international break and ask ourselves if progress is being made. The answer is obviously an emphatic yes.
Better still, there is yet more to come. For all the really nice football, which has benefitted immensely over the last month from a subtle shift in gear, there is still insufficient end product and yesterday we’d have all liked to have seen a busier Jack Butland.
But this is all stuff that is being worked on on the fields of Colney and given the improvements that have been so evident in the last few weeks – performance levels are now a far cry from those on show in that turgid local derby – we have to trust Team Farke to solve this riddle too.
It certainly didn’t help the cause that Teemu Pukki’s incredible run has drained him of energy and that extra half-a-yard that’s so vital for strikers but, equally, there was an undoubted logic in Daniel Farke keeping faith with an unchanged line-up and asking them to go again one more time.
Maybe the coach could have swapped the tired limbs for fresh ones a little sooner yesterday but such was the performance level, especially in the first half, there was clearly belief in the technical area that they still had enough in the tank to get the job done. On another day they would have done.
Yet we should still take great heart from the fact we have a bench that is now really able to impact on a game. Onel Hernandez and Mario Vrancic were both able to add something that wasn’t there yesterday, albeit the breakthrough still never came, and gone are the days when late changes are made merely to add ‘fresh legs’.
This City squad is very much that – a squad – and to think that Grant Hanley, Kenny McLean have played no part whatsoever in this run. Now the dust has settled on season 2018-19, this group looks to have a greater depth, even minus the Maddisons and the Murphys, and a nice balance to it. And the methodology that has been drummed in since May 2017 is starting to bear fruit.
Whether part of the grand plan was that Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell would play such key roles in this set-up is one for Farke and Stuart Webber to answer, but both were excellent again yesterday – as was Jamal Lewis in his dual with Tom Ince – and it’s telling that none of the young players play like young players.
Each has been integrated into the group as equals and are growing in stature before our very eyes; all contributing every bit as much as the senior pros in the squad. Of all the good things that have emerged in the last month, it’s the joint-emergence of Aarons and Cantwell that gives off the warmest glow.
That shouldn’t, however, detract from the new heroes that have come from nowhere. Marco Stiepermann has been reborn, we’re seeing the Mo Leitner of the Borussia Dortmund vintage, Alex Tettey is playing the best football of his career, Tim Krul is now the Tim Krul we wanted and the German/Swiss centre-back combo has been simply superb.
All we ask is that this isn’t peak Norwich City, but instead is the foundation of a good season of entertaining football. I’m still not convinced the top six is our natural resting place, but performance levels like those we’ve seen over the last month could take us close.
And, most important of all, it’s fun again.