Okay, so the fact that Chris Wilder’s Sheffield Utd leapfrogged us into second place was slightly irritating, as was the oxygen this gave those tiresome #TwitterBlades, but who in the Canary Nation honestly wouldn’t have taken a 1-1 at the Hawthorns?
That City had to come from behind was no surprise whatsoever, but on this occasion, it wasn’t one of those where everything felt in control and it was a matter of time before City fought their way back into the game. This was nothing like that.
Instead, it was a first-half as fraught and pressurised as anything City have endured all season, although some form of normality was restored in the second as they wrestled back control.
It was a tough afternoon though. A proper test.
Those of us who’ve played the game will recall those days of playing youth football when you came up against a side who were bigger, physically stronger, sometimes a year older and who were technically supposed to be better. The side who had a generous sprinkling of county players and whose mums and dads on the touchline were a little noisier and more boisterous than yours.
(And every single one of those sides had a Gareth Barry plonked in the centre of their midfield – a decent passer of the ball who also revelled in his role of bully/enforcer – and a Jay Rodriguez, who was part player, part referee.)
I doubt very much it felt like that to City’s players, who are perfectly conditioned mentally as well as physically and who no longer show even the slightest hint of an inferiority complex, but from the outside looking in that first half took me back to those days. And even back then youthful exuberance, tenacity, desire and a bloody good goalkeeper would win the day – or be good enough to earn a point.
Yet Albion, for all the reasons above and also by virtue of having a squad worth probably 10x the value of City’s, are a good side with attacking options the rest of the Championship can only dream of and should, in the natural order of things, be top two – probably top one actually.
That they’re not is part down to pesky little upstarts like Norwich City who refuse to accept their place in said natural order and also the fact that over the course of the season they have conceded goals at a similar rate to City. But they’ll be there or thereabouts and there should be no underestimating how crucial it was to take two points off them yesterday and retain that three-point gap.
Some Baggies’ fans are now labelling us ‘frauds’ for being in the top two for so long, which was even more reason to take the point and revel in it.
As ever, in big games like these, heroes emerge and not for the first time this season, Tim Krul produced shot-stopping of the highest order at crucial moments, in particular, those two saves at the very start of the second-half. Either of those goes in and it’s game over, and obviously that late save through a crowded penalty area was a point-preserver.
His kicking radar was way off yesterday though and if I were being churlish I’d suggest he’d borrowed Michael McGovern’s boots for the afternoon – but Darren Moore had demanded a high, energetic press that would prevent City getting out, and for the most part it worked.
Max Aarons may, of course, have neck ache today from watching Krul’s intended passes drift off into row G, but it was a small grumble from a performance that earned City the point – no question.
Other heroes to emerge were Ben Godfrey, whose calmness and composure under the most intense pressure continues to amaze, and of course the two 81st minute substitutes who both contibuted massively to not only the equaliser, but the late rally in general.
As inch-perfect near-post crosses go, Kenny McLean’s was about as good as they get, and for Jordan Rhodes to replicate what Dwight Gayle had done over an hour early was almost poetic – certainly in its execution and most definitely in the way it was celebrated in front of the 2700+ strong travelling army. In a season of magic moments, that was another to add to the list.
Others to emerge with credit from what could have been wreckage but was, in fact, anything but, were Mario Vrancic, who the statisticians tell us made an incredible nine tackles – not bad for someone who was considered (by me) as ‘too delicate’ – and *tin hat ready* Dennis Sbreny, whose cameo in place of the tiring Emi Buendia was one of someone who is turning into a decent player.
Yet still, it feels unjust to single out individuals in what was very much a team effort – as it always it – and for them to have dug out a point from a game that looked out of their reach for spells was a phenomenal effort all round, not least from the head coach, whose go-to Plan B is turning into something quite special.
He makes it look easy. Struggling late on? Need a goal? Okay then…
- Back three including Tettey
- Aarons to left wing-back
- Hernandez to right wing-back
- Jordan Rhodes up top
Or a variation thereof… and how many times has it delivered for us?
So, a point when it looked unlikely and which, in the circumstances, was invaluable, but no wins in four does smack to the outside world of something of an untimely blip. Dropping out of the top two for the first time since October also suggests the same, and results wise we can’t argue.
But, big but, I’d argue that through this iffy spell of results this group have proved more than anytime this season that they are not ready to just drift out of the promotion picture without so much as a murmur.
Others have already written us off but I’m not quite so sure, with Mo and Marco soon to be back in the fold, that we’re quite ready to conform with the wishes of the masses.
I’ll leave the final word to Dave Clarke who captured the feeling of the Canary Nation perfectly in his post-match tweet…
WBA fans booing their expensively assembled team off at the end for failing to beat little old Norwich who fielded a team of 4 academy graduates, 2 free transfers and 4 bargain buys from the German and Spanish second tiers
Keep writing us off, keep on underestimating us! #ncfc
— Dave Clarke (@clarkedp) January 12, 2019