Ee-i-ee-i-ee-i-oh, up the Football League we go was the cry of the travelling Yellow Army at 1-0 up at Derby’s iPro Stadium last Wednesday, a song of jubilance and triumph not sung with such fervour by those who follow City since that glorious Paul Lambert epoch of 2009 and 2012.
The following day, tickets to Nottingham Forest away in just under two weeks’ time had sold out.
Two days later, after what sounded an undeserved defeat at home to Stoke City, an evocative rendition of On the Ball City reverberated around Carrow Road. For once, and after what has seemed like an eternity, Norwich City appear to be a club and a fanbase united in a buoyant sense of optimism, passion and collective spirit.
And about time too. The last two seasons have been characterised by relentless disappointment and underachievement, whether it be Alex Neil’s hapless away form during the winter of 2017/18 or Daniel Farke’s defensive capitulations at Villa Park, the New Den, the KCOM Stadium or Loftus Road. Take your pick; there really have been so many moments of despondence, disillusionment and dismay.
But times are changing. As it appears most fans have agreed, City are a genuinely improved Championship outfit this campaign, striking a balance between defensive solidity and attacking fluidity and successfully combining resilience off the ball with aesthetics on it. Such a balance is precisely what is required to flourish in this notoriously gruelling league.
Despite our slow start, some of us spotted it early. From those who saw City’s performances against Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United, we did look like a side who had become more potent in possession and posed a greater threat going forward. To use a word employed by so many City fans over the past twelve months, further patience was still required.
And, although it may only be the beginning of October, it looks like our perseverance may truly be paying off. Regrettably, I wasn’t at the Stoke game on Saturday, but by all accounts, it sounded like City were robbed by a well-drilled team who effectively repelled everything we threw at them. As so many fans posted on social media after the game, it was a case of it being one of those days.
And those days will happen. We can only hope they will only occur on an intermittent basis, but such results are inevitable in this division. What is for certain, is that if Farke’s team continue to play with the attacking slickness and form they have demonstrated since the East Anglian derby, they will be absolutely fine.
But what does ‘fine’ constitute? Top half? Top ten? Play-offs? At this stage, it may be too early to gage, but there’s no denying that on their day, this team is capable of beating anybody in the Championship.
Look at the ever-improving Tim Krul, a keeper who struggled at the start of his career in Norfolk but is rapidly becoming the player we all associated him with when his signing was announced. Look at the precocity of Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons, who continue to defend with competence while simultaneously posing a threat down the flanks. And in the absence of captain Grant Hanley, look at the way in which Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmerman have stepped up so admirably to the plate.
And then there’s the midfield. Alex Tettey and Moritz Leitner have been superb both in and out of possession, while the advent of the marauding Marco Stiepermann just in front of them has been nothing short of a revelation. Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia are developing all the time. Teemu Pukki and Jordan Rhodes have both proven they are genuine goal scorers.
What makes City’s form so remarkable has been that it has been in the absence of Onel Hernandez and Kenny McClean, both of whom were deemed to be vital to our fortunes this season. Nobody can deny that Farke, Stuart Webber and co have successfully constructed a team with considerably greater strength in depth despite the sales of Alex Pritchard, James Maddison and Josh Murphy.
The most visible and exciting manifestation of City’s recent form, however? The intoxicating impact on our fans.
Nearly 1,500 of us travelled to Wycombe on a Tuesday night. Despite a diminished number of followers in the East Midlands last week – probably the product of Sky’s innovative midweek red button service – those of us there were spirited in the face of the hosts’ late equaliser. And, as was so well-documented after the game against Stoke, the 25,000 present at Carrow Road vocally showed their support for a team who had put together a run that we could all be so proud of.
While the international break may have come at a good time for City’s players, it will do little to suppress our fans’ burgeoning optimism. The away end at the City Ground next Saturday will surely be rocking, a sea of yellow and green eager to return down the A17 with three colossal points and one significant Championship statement made.
I’m convinced we can do it. Whatever happens, let us all continue to get behind Farke and his team and see what this fascinating season may bring.