Well, that was all rather pleasant and unexpected.
In a season where grind has outscored glory by around three to one, not a straw goes by without being clutched, so forgive me if I make the most of this one.
- A hattrick from an 18-year-old
- A place in the fourth round of the FA Cup
- Scoring four goals
- A win!
For once, the positives came thick and fast and for now, I’m going to ignore the yeah but(s)…
Adam Idah’s hattrick was, for him and us, the stuff of dreams and it was grand that in 2019/20 we finally had an entry for the City books that was a celebration rather than a curse.
There’s no such thing as a bad hattrick, of course, but this was a particularly good one that relied on a striker’s instinct and hours and hours of Colney graft. Particularly goal number two.
I’ve rambled on in the past around how the really good strikers – like Teemu Pukki – have this unnatural ability to relax when presented with a goalscoring opportunity, as opposed to experiencing that tightening of the shoulders and befuddlement of the brain. I know this, I’ve been there.
I was clearly in the befuddled camp, and so there was something glorious around the way Idah picked his spot from 35 yards with the goal at his mercy minus any doubt in his mind over where that ball was going to end up. The technique and execution were perfect; that of a seasoned striker.
His afternoon didn’t start too badly either.
Marco Stiepermann, free of the shackles imposed upon him by those pesky Premier League defenders, looked a player reborn and took just 90 seconds to do what came as second nature last season: receiving the ball on the half-turn, driving towards the opponents’ goal and sliding through a perfectly weighted pass.
Idah’s speed over ten yards and goalscorer’s instinct did the rest.
For a co-founder of the Stiepi appreciation society, this throwback to 2018/19 was a timely fillip, having watched him painfully struggle and toil amidst the rarified air of the Prem. Given that extra half-a-second on the ball, he was able to get his head up and pick his passes; the like of which were manna from heaven for Pukki last season.
All too often this season, he’s been allowed no time to take the two of three touches he needs to become effective, often being not permitted the opportunity to get on said half-turn, instead being forced to receive the ball facing his own goal.
But against Championship players, some of them second-string Championship players, he was the Stiepi of old, with Idah the main beneficiary. The German was involved, to some degree, in all four goals and won’t have been alone in benefitting hugely from events at Deepdale.
Another to have been offered a rare outing in the north-west was one Mo Leitner, who within those 94 minutes exhibited all of the traits, good and bad, that have made him such a challenge for Daniel Farke.
We know how good he can be with the ball at his feet when given time to pick his passes and there is no-one better in that scenario at picking the right pass to break the hard press when it comes. His instinct of knowing when to play the safe pass and when to try something inventive is second to none – we have no-one better.
The flip side is his tendency to appear lightweight when what’s needed is a presence to help bolster the muscle of Alex Tettey, Tom Trybull or Ibrahim Amadou. That’s not him, he’s a quarterback, but in the current system, with two deep-lying midfielders used to both protect the back-four and instigate things, he has found it tough, especially in the Prem.
I have no idea if there’s any validity in the theory that him and the head coach fail to see eye-to-eye – I don’t suppose for one second that Mo is happy at not being in the 18 – but I tend to go with the theory that Mo’s not been picked because Farke thinks he has better options at the moment. Simple as.
That Leitner can be a bit stroppy is no secret either, so I’m ignoring his apparent petulance when the ball was handed to Idah for the penalty, but it is perhaps a case of him being one who takes a little more managing than others in the squad.
What he is, is a very good footballer, technically one of our very best, who has not been able to take his chances when they came along in the Premier League. Maybe those opportunities will still come but right now he’s down the pecking order.
But I digress… there was more to yesterday than just Adam, Stiepi and Mo. It was a team performance, against admittedly limited opposition, that reminded us of the joy that Farkeball can bring when it works. It was a reminder that if the worse happens this season, then the next one will be better.
It was also a nod in the wrong direction to our ongoing defensive woes. It needed some Michael McGovern acrobatics late on to deny Preston a late comeback and some last-ditch defending to avoid a Carrow Road replay. So, for all the thrills and spills, some things don’t change.
Yet it was an afternoon joyously free of the blight of VAR; ironic therefore that two of City’s and one of Preston’s goals would likely have been ruled out if Stockley Park’s finest had been on the case.
As a spectacle, however, no-one would argue it wasn’t infinitely better with Martin Atkinson free to make and own his decisions. It ebbed and flowed as football matches should.
So, a good one, an enjoyable one and we – in Norwich City terms – are in on a cup run!