So, who saw that one coming?
Even the happiest of clappers must have had a slight wobble after the Watford defeat. Even with the well-discussed mitigation taken into account, the aftermath of that one had an air of ‘where do we turn?’ about it.
But one international break and one gigantic German later, and the world seems a different place, especially when you can no longer be adjectivised as bottom-of-the-table Norwich. Feels good.
The post-match angle was naturally based around the return of said gigantic German, and we’ll come to him in a bit, but it was also a day when the head coach found his own A-game.
Like his players, Daniel Farke has found the transition from second to first tier a tough one – he’d probably admit that – especially when he has been dealt such a poor hand in terms of injuries. There’s also the small matter of having a squad that, on paper, is the weakest and least valuable in the Premier League.
Farke has had to learn on the job. None of his backroom team has Premier League experience he can draw on, neither has Stuart Webber directly; instead, he has had only Tim Krul and Alex Tettey to turn to when needing first-hand knowledge of what to expect.
It’s not just on the pitch either. Off the pitch, the demands of a Premier League manager are infinitely greater than those in the Championship, especially in terms of media commitments before and after games plus extras in the week in between.
For him, it is far more than getting 18 players prepared for the weekend and it’s something he’s had to handle for the first time. All part of the same learning curve the players are on.
But if yesterday was anything to go by, just as he eventually found the right formula to compete successfully in the Championship, he’s learnt a lot over those opening 12 games. For as much as we looked fragile, lost and jaded against Watford, against Everton we looked solid, spirited and creative.
There were understandably a few jangling nerves early on, and there was a 5/10 minute spell where the ball was given away too cheaply, but as it became increasingly clear this is not an Everton side to be feared, there was a tangible surge in belief.
The forward forays of Onel Hernandez started to carry more oomph and with Kenny McLean and Todd Cantwell offering a level of support to Teemu Pukki that’s been missing in recent weeks, there was a pleasing level of threat to City’s play – the fluency that has been absent started to reveal itself.
That Hernandez and Cantwell both went close when both should have scored was disappointing but offered hope that more of the same would lead to more goalscoring chances.
The key to it all, of course, was the solid base from which these probing counter-attacks were sprung. With Zimmermann’s towering, courageous presence offering the back-four a different dynamic, this had the air of many away performances of last season.
No longer was Ben Godfrey being asked to lead. Instead, he had some booming yet soothing Germanic tones in his right ear, encouraging, cajoling and demanding.
For all the tactical nuances and positional tweaks, a Zimmermann plonked in the middle of that back-four adds presence… and we’ve lacked presence. It also released Alex Tettey to go and do Alex Tettey things in that space in front of the back four – that very area where, in the recent past, Gylfi Sigurdsson has been a proper pain for visiting defences at Goodison.
But he wasn’t yesterday.
With Tettey anchoring alongside Tom Trybull, who himself benefited from having some Norwegian muscle nearby, the core felt robust and competitive – the hot knife/butter syndrome was no more. And it permitted Max Aarons and Sam Byram the chance to push on when the time was right without fear.
Both were prominent in the Everton half – in the Everton box in Byram’s case – without overcommitting and leaving big holes. The balance felt right and such was the impact of Byram on the overall structure of the team, a fit Jamal Lewis may just have a fight on his hands.
There was home pressure to absorb after the break – a natural response to a tetchy Goodison and an even tetchier, under-fire manager – but the way Zimmermann and Godfrey slipped into 2018/19, bodies-on-the-line mode bode well, particularly with Timm Krul being his usual solid, error-free self.
As long as City didn’t concede it always felt like a chance would come and when it did, thanks to Pukki’s cleverness, Cantwell finished with the aplomb of an old pro – the key being a perfectly timed run and an equally perfect first touch.
Cantwell deserved it – had a fine afternoon – and so did the team. No-one in Goodison could argue City didn’t deserve a lead. The roar from the travelling support was tinged with relief. August 9 was a long time ago.
Despite an attempted Everton big finale, the Zimbo/Godfrey axis held firm, the high-fives were unrelenting and the unity infectious.
That the clincher came from the boot of Dennis Sbreny added an element of surreality to the afternoon, but was a big moment for the young German who’s spent almost his entire City career on the fringes. His moment was every bit as deserved as Cantwell’s and he represents, just as much as the big names, the togetherness in this group that’s remained unbroken through the hard times.
While the fans started to splinter, those inside the walls held firm and yesterday was their reward.
But there have been no turned corners, no season-defining moments or scaled peaks. This was a good win, a bloody good one, and there is now a template from which to build, but that performance level now needs to become the norm and not the exception.
More of the same and we can all start to believe again. Maybe starting again Arsenal?
Welcome back Mein Kapitän.