The simmering discontent over Chris Hughton’s management style has taken on a life of its own of late – Twitter and the message-boards affording the dissenters a disproportionately loud voice – but the depth of feeling of some was brought home to me over me pre-match drink last Saturday.
If there was a positive to be gleamed from the game – other than the fact they didn’t lose – it was the way the City players responded to adversity. After being horribly outplayed for half an hour, and with the faithful getting increasingly restless, they somehow managed – completely out of the blue (apologies for using the word) – to conjure up the unlikeliest of equalisers.
When presented with his first Norwich City fixture list, back in June 2012, Hughton will have looked at the final few home games of the season – Swansea, Reading, Aston Villa, West Brom – and considered each to be winnable. Nothing has changed.
Thanks to a fruitful autumn – that ten game unbeaten run now taking on the form of a lifeline – they still find themselves with a small but eroding cushion. Quite how much longer I’ll be able to say that I’m not sure, although Aston Villa’s ‘charge’ being halted by Liverpool yesterday certainly helped.
Such is the current life of the travelling faithful, last season’s expectancy – borne of the Lambert-inspired gung-ho spirit – now replaced with hope; a hope that just around the corner is that second away win of the season. For flamboyance read pragmatism; for flair read grit.
If just knowing that we were ‘going for it’ with real intent wasn’t exciting enough, to hear that the deal had been concluded was positively thrilling. In terms of the excitement generated this is certainly right up there with Boxing Day 2003 when one Darren Huckerby made his official Carrow Road bow following the loan spell to end all loan spells.
For his part in proceedings, Chris Foy now finds himself added to that ever growing list of those deemed to have ‘wronged’ the yellow and green. Step forward Eddie Ilderton, Andy D’Urso, Michael Oliver and Mark Clattenburg.
Football being what it is, the magnificent Yellow Army will still head north firmly of the belief that just around the corner is that elusive away win; that their heroes are on the cusp of bucking the recent trend of blanks and the odd scrappy goal; that it’s only a matter of time before one of Bradley Johnson’s wayward long range efforts pings arrow-like into the top corner and that Grant Holt will yet again prove the doubters wrong.
Newcastle’s win over the purists from the Potteries has certainly made life interesting, with Stoke now firmly ensconced in the mid-table ‘pack’ – and with a very similar record to Norwich. Alas where it all starts to unfurl a little for City is when the goal difference column comes into view.
That Southampton have trodden a similar recent path to City also endears them to me with their two consecutive promotions also coming off the back of an ignominious spell in the third tier. They too have kept faith with some key players along the way; for Grant Holt read Rickie Lambert, for Wes Hoolahan read Adam Lallana.
As painful as it was – and there’s no doubt it was infuriating at times – yesterday was a perfect snapshot of reality. A gulf in class and quality that was evident from the second minute when some typically neat City inter-play worked Bradley Johnson into that exquisite crossing position. What followed was neither pretty nor clever, and I’m not expecting the Johnson Sky+ box to have been in action last night.
Turn up, marvel at the surroundings, be grateful to be there and enjoy the occasion by all means, but turn up with a game plan that may involve defending in numbers at times? Not a great idea unless you’re prepared to risk the famous wrath of Sir Alex.
In many ways those final fifteen minutes put the ‘winning v entertainment’ debate to bed once and for all. While for 75 minutes the general standard of fare on offer was of the average variety, I don’t suppose any of the 25,000 city fans present would swap them given the 19 minutes of drama and pure sporting theatre that followed.
As much as I’d love to frequent a stadium with four sides of a similar stature – the current lop-sided look reminds me of the old Filbert Street – and one that’s tad more aesthetically pleasing, if we had 32,000 seats to fill I’m not sure we’d be able to fill them as regularly as we’d like.
Given that the plan was to play two ‘up top’ against Fulham I expect the skipper to have some help at close quarters on Saturday. If, come 16:50, Messrs Jagielka and Distin fall into the ‘known they’ve been in a game’ bracket, it will go a long way to being job done.
If my memory serves me correctly, one of the many statistical reports produced at the end of last season deduced that City played more long balls than anyone else. While I can recall being more than a little sceptical of its accuracy – how could City have hit more long balls than Stoke for example? – for this purpose at least, it doesn’t portray a team with a penchant for the beautiful game.
Credit again is due the Match of the Day production team who – not for the first time – excelled themselves in finding five minutes worth of highlights, although showing a Luciano Becchio that flew ten yards wide from four different angles is cheating bit.
With Harry Kane having been returned to sender – his first-half appearance against Luton being a rather inglorious way to bring his Canary career to a close – Chris Hughton finds himself back to ‘as you were’ in terms of striker numbers, but with a different looking mix to his striking pool.
The similarities between the Premier League and the Championship (and the SPL for that matter) are few and far between; even taking aside the riches on offer. The intensity and tempo of your average EPL game is what sets this league apart from all others, and is precisely what makes it such an unforgiving environment.
We’re used to lows and horror shows – part and parcel of being a Norwich supporter – but since the unveiling of Messrs Bowkett and McNally, days of that ilk have been thankfully few and far between. In fact since ‘that’ game against Colchester, they have been virtually non-existent.