It was a good night – no doubt about it. With a place in the last eight of the Capital One Cup (League Cup) already secured we then learn that an old friend is planning to visit, much earlier than planned.
The inner child in us all loves a good surprise and the good old footballing gods duly delivered us two in the space of just over an hour on Wednesday night.
Firstly, just when it looked as if the curtain was about to be brought down on our mini cup-run of 2012, a barnstorming finish sees us through to the quarter-finals in a dramatic fashion normally reserved for our cup opponents.
And then we go and draw Aston Villa… at home… again… for the fourth time running.
What the heck is going on?
The cliché ‘name on the cup’ is not one I tend to use – makes it sound as if you just need to turn up, do nothing, yet still miraculously appear in the hat for the next round. But it makes you wonder doesn’t it?
How else could you explain this phenomenon of late winners, penalty saves, home draws and ‘dream’ ties?
OK, so late winners were something of a staple of the PL era and JR’s been known to save the odd penalty, but cup runs? Not likely.
I’m happy for now to think that maybe, just maybe, the footballing gods have a plan up their sleeves. Perhaps I’m just dreaming… but at least, for now, we can.
It was no great surprise that the game itself took a good hour to burst into life. The subdued atmosphere did little to ignite events on the pitch, and equally with a tempo akin to a pre-season friendly at times, the crowd had little to latch on to. Not a good recipe.
Those City supporters that did chose to line Chris Hughton’s transfer kitty with an additional £30 certainly did their best to show solidarity with those who had stayed at home. Those listening to Radio Norfolk voted with their feet, those in the ground voted with their voices… at least that’s how it felt.
Either way, I suspect that the quarter-final will generate a rather different atmosphere.
Once a certain G. Bale had done his best to inject some life into the game, with a stinging low drive inside Mark Bunn’s near post, then Hughton went to work.
A string of attack-minded substitutions – we ended the game with three out and out strikers on the pitch – turned the game on its head.
If we’re looking for a winner from the technical area then, on the night, there’s no doubting that Hughton trumped Andres Villas-Boas at the turn of almost every card.
Once the excellent (again) Alexander Tettey’s deflected shot has given us a lifeline, one could then sense a genuine belief that the game was there to be won. When Simeon Jackson was rewarded for a good late cameo with that two-yard tap-in there was still just enough time for a late twist… and so it proved.
When it arrived – in the form of a dubious looking penalty – it was only fitting that Bunn should round off an excellent night’s work with a fine save.
A few eyebrows were raised when Hughton embarked on his summer long pursuit of the former Blackburn stopper – but now we can see why. Whilst it’s clearly John Ruddy’s jersey to lose, few would now baulk at the prospect of his deputy taking over if the need arises.
All in all it was a great result against a strong looking Spurs side, which included the names Dawson, Bale and Demsey for starters. No arguments about City taking advantage of a weaken line-up – Michael Turner being the only ‘survivor’ from Saturday’s starting XI at Villa Park.
For those that witnessed it, the last fifteen minutes were about as thrilling as it gets, and it’s strange how the turgid 75 that preceded it can be quickly erased from the memory. If there was a tinge of disappointment it was that 10,000 more fans could have been there to see it, but were simply priced out.
Let’s hope lessons have been learned all round. Every day is a school day, after all – even for Chief Executives.
As we all know, the night was rounded off perfectly courtesy of the quarter-final draw. Despite the respectful reception afforded to Paul Lambert on Saturday, one suspects the one that awaits at Carrow Road in December will be slightly different.
So it’s been a good week and a half for Team Hughton, and there are clear signs the new message is getting through. The passing is getting slicker, we’re keeping the ball better and we’re playing the game on the front foot – just how the Yellow Army likes it.
But forget that for Saturday, Stoke City are in town. Let’s just hope those line-out drills work…