Blimey… where to start (again)!
Just as we thought there were no more late fairytales left in the locker, this lot go and write another extraordinary chapter. One so extraordinarily that (again) if you pitched it to a Hollywood scriptwriter you would be sent forth on the grounds of it being too far fetched.
Such was the injury-time drama, it was one of those where talking points that would normally dominate the post-match debate were merely part of the story.
Talking points like referee John Brooks and his assistant missing one of the most obvious handballs you’re ever likely to see, and then the pair following that up with ignoring Danny Fox – who was already on a yellow – going head-to-head with Teemu Pukki, while seeing fit to book the Finn for the exact same indiscretion.
I try not to waste this column with moans and groans about “useless” and “cheating” refs, because (1) they have a job that will naturally mean every single decision they make will be opposed by one set of fans, and (2) they’re not cheats, but perhaps we can just all agree that Mr Brooks had a poor day at the office.
These guys are assessed to within an inch of their lives and said gent will be formally reminded of how wrong he got it yesterday; his case not helped by Robinson scoring Forest’s second goal while his ‘handball’ was still resonating around Carrow Road.
But hey, give this bunch some hurdles and they’ll just see them as challenges to overcome. And invariably they do.
The funny thing is, yesterday all looked so straightforward early on, as City dominated the opening half an hour with the usual silky, controlled precision and it, again, looked like a case of being patient and eventually taking a chance or two when they present themselves.
Little did we know.
The trigger for it all to go a little awry was when Marco Stiepermann cleaned out Robinson and walked a red card tightrope – another decision that will likely form part of Brooks’ debrief. From thereon in the temperature rose and City’s control on proceedings never felt quite as secure.
That Max Aarons for once made a decision befitting an 18-year-old and cost City the goal just before half-time was simply one of those things. It all forms part of a learning curve that, right now, is about as steep as they come, and maybe Mr Pochettino should, for now, take note. 🙂
But for this group, being a goal down at half-time is no cause for panic, even on a day when they no longer had the cauldron of the Barclay to kick toward in the crucial second period; instead having to rely on the “sleepy” River End to roar them home.
That Forest managed to engineer themselves a 3-0 lead in a game that City had dominated was ridiculous, but they have spent a lot of money and they do have some quality players, not least in the form of João Carvalho, who did look the part as his team looked to be cruising.
Worth noting at this stage is, among other saves, the brilliant one-handed stop by Tim Krul to deny Lewis Grabban in the second-half. The Dutchman was magnificent yesterday and, the fine shot-stopping aside, is at the very heart of this team’s relentless desire to battle and push on.
Aitor Karanka, as we know to our painful cost, does have a certain way of playing and does instil in his teams a certain way of killing off games. As his team edged themselves into a match-winning position, he appeared the ideal manager to prevent this Norwich side doing what this Norwich side does.
And, to be fair, he and his players tried to spoil and kill time.
What they didn’t reckon on were three City substitutes who would each enter the fray and make an impact.
When Mario Vrancic made it 3-1 with his deflected shot on 77 minutes, for those outside the Norwich City bubble it looked like little more than a consolation, but already ‘final 20-minute syndrome’ had kicked it and the chances had started to come thick and fast; Pukki only being denied by Pantilimon’s ginormous arms from close range.
For those of us inside the bubble, we simply knew more chances would come. We knew the ball would still be shifted through the thirds with patience and precision, and we knew Forest would find themselves pinned in their 18-yard box for long periods.
It was just a question of needing a break in the box, the ball to fall kindly or a deflection, and for once it looked as if the opposition of the day – and Forest defended very well for 93 minutes – would survive the late onslaught, and end City’s unbeaten run.
Then Onel happened.
His 94th-minute ‘bobbler’ owed much to Jordan Rhodes trying to get a deft touch on it at the near post – one that he didn’t get but which was enough to distract Pantilimon for a split-second – and then with Carrow Road literally on its feet it was time for another Christmas miracle.
Still there was time for both Ben Godfrey and Timm Klose – both magnificent in their roles as makeshift strikers – to be brilliantly denied by Pantilimon from close range but, in hindsight, these were all merely preludes to the main act.
Klose’s chest control and volleyed pass to Hernandez was quite something in its own right, and drew a massive Carrow Road roar as the crowd sensed ‘now or never’ time, and despite the Cuban’s initial cross being blocked off, the tenacity of Pukki and Godfrey to keep the ball alive and then the most beautiful dummy ever seen by Klose offered Onel the chance.
The finish may or may not have taken a slight nick off a defender to lift it into the roof of the net, it may not have, I don’t care either way, but the scenes that followed were up there with anything the old place has witnessed in this most extraordinary of seasons.
Aside from all the obvious technical qualities, there’s a fire in this bunch that burns, a desire and will I’ve seldom witnessed in a Norwich City side, and a never-say-die attitude borne of a willingness to run through brick walls for their coach and for each other.
At the end of the day, it was only a point and we ended the day losing ground on Leeds and seeing the gap to West Brom in third being eroded but, as Daniel Farke said afterwards, this was not even about points or promotion charges. It went deeper. This was about the unbridled joy of us seeing fourteen young men and their coaching team giving absolutely everything for that shirt and that badge.
This is a special time. This is a special group. It’s a unity and togetherness that is so so rare at his level of football. And whether or not it ultimately takes us to the so-called Promised Land, not one of us will ever forget the autumn/winter of 2018.
I’m leaving the final word on yesterday to Adam Brandon – an esteemed member of the #NCFC Twitterati – who summed it all up perfectly.
Have it Forest. Have it referee. Have it Karanka. We deserved all 3 points but coming back from 3 down with 20 to go… I'll take it.
— Adam Brandon (@AdamBrandon84) December 26, 2018
Be proud people. Be proud.