Back in Norfolk for the first time since Derby Day, I took an unconventional route to Carrow Road on Friday afternoon.
After a swift visit to see my granny in Gorleston, I boarded the 17:03 service from Haddiscoe – long story – and made that pre-match pilgrimage into the Fine City.
The immediate chat from the expectant dozens on the platform concerned proceedings at Elland Road, a seismic result that invariably sent tremors all over the county. Despite Sheffield United’s lunchtime triumph over – what sounded like – a somewhat deflated Nottingham Forest, Wigan had done City a remarkable favour.
Discourse then turned to the more detailed intricacies of City’s chances; Pukki, Leitner, Godfrey and – yes, you guessed it – Todd Cantwell. Opinions varied and temperatures remained calm.
Indeed, the Cantwell debate has been well-publicised and is now a largely tedious form of discussion, but any rational City fan will surely agree that he’s a talented young player who’s more than played his part in this spectacular season.
And then Tim Krul’s name got mentioned. Krul, a player who himself has not been void of criticism and a man who has admittedly been responsible for a few goals – though not many – City have conceded across this campaign.
And how pertinent it was that our Dutch number one was brought up, almost foreshadowing an evening in which he stood so strong in City’s goal and relentlessly continued to thwart – other than that ridiculous first-half thunderbolt – the enterprising Fernando Forestieri and co.
Krul is arguably City’s greatest asset this season. Granted, he hasn’t scored 27 goals, hasn’t lit up the league with tricks and flicks and hasn’t been the player that those of us who follow City far and wide look forward to watching each week, but the essence of Krul isn’t necessarily what he does on the pitch.
Last night, it was, however. His second-half save to deny Forestieri another Carrow Road rocket was truly astonishing, an exhibition in agility and alertness that essentially kept us in the game and enabled Super Mario to bend that masterful free-kick in at the eleventh hour.
Krul’s greatest value lies less tangibly. He is the calming influence on this side, a leader in the dressing room who keeps heads cool and instils confidence into others around him.
Would Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Jamal Lewis have flourished to the extent they have this season with a less experienced and potentially more volatile goalkeeper behind them? Almost certainly not.
Krul is the glue that holds this City team together, a player who cares so passionately about his side’s cause and a man that supporters can truly relate to. He is an intelligent user of social media, disseminating messages that are more than mere soundbites but instead genuine manifestations of his commitment and desire to succeed.
One of my abiding memories of this glorious season was at Loftus Road back in September. The full-time whistle sounded in a nippy West London and over came Krul, charging towards that yellow wall in jubilation and intensifying the already joyous celebrations courtesy of Teemu Pukki’s – not proper, according to that Wally with a Brolly – goal.
Such elated responses to City’s victories have become an evocative characteristic of this campaign, seen again on that historic night in Yorkshire on February 2 and at the New Den a month later. Krul cares. Fans respect that.
Of course, for errors like the ones against Hull at home and – to a lesser extent – Leeds and West Brom back in August (how long ago do they feel?), he must be held accountable. His distribution still leaves a lot to be desired, as seen at The Hawthorns in January when virtually all his first-half kicks flew miles over Aarons’ head on the right flank.
However, Krul is a vital cog in this increasingly well-oiled City machine. Not only is he a dexterous shot stopper – think Ashton Gate, Griffin Park and, most recently, the DW and last night – but his handling is largely sound and has improved significantly as this season has progressed.
He is a solid Championship – and, soon to be – Premier League keeper. The notion that he needs replacing is preposterous.
But it is his value off the pitch that remains his greatest attribute. A small dose of experience in this young, fearless and enterprising side is essential, particularly in times like these when cool heads are so acutely required to see us over the line.
Although number two to Steve Harper at the time, he’s done it before at Newcastle in 2010. Almost a decade on, he’s going to do it again as a number one.
And that experience will inevitably reassure those young players around him. We all know this City squad are such a united, close-knit group – as revealed further in Gregor Robertson’s superbly-researched article in The Times on Friday – yet it is Krul’s presence that has become so critical in injecting that unwavering sense of self-confidence and togetherness.
In many respects, it can be argued that Krul has been something of an unsung hero this campaign. What is more certain, however, is that when City do seal their imminent promotion, he’ll be the first player over to the fans to celebrate.
Bring on Monday.