It was indeed a tale of two Cities…
One owned by a Middle Eastern royal family so rich that the money pit is literally bottomless, and the other… well, you know all about the other.
That the little City came within a whisker of taking a point from the big one tells a tale in itself, and should confirm to us that our current crop have what it takes to survive in this league.
I’m even prepared to overlook Gary Lineker’s ‘plucky’ description, on the basis that on a David vs. Goliath occasion – such as yesterday – a good dose of ‘pluck’ is a necessity. At least our MotD friend steered sensibly clear of ‘little’.
Mancini’s men, and their travelling support, celebrated at the end as if a trophy had been at stake – an indication they knew they’d had a tough afternoon. A stark contrast to their last visit when – in front of the Sky TV cameras – they had things rather too easy as they smashed us for a massive six.
In fairness to the visitors, with the handicapper at work – in the form of referee Mike Jones – the second half was considerably closer than perhaps it might have been. We’re of course not to know what would have happened if it had remained XI vs XI, and it certainly wasn’t the fault of anyone in yellow and green that Samir Nasri was the first to blink in his game of head tennis with Sebastien Bassong.
With Bassong’s initial challenge – the one that caused the whole furore – looking to be nothing more than ‘meaty’, the visitors may now regret making such a fuss. When a tackle of that ilk is deemed worthy of a ‘yellow’ then football, for me, is getting perilously close to being a non-contact sport. Do we really want to go there?
Either way, the upshot of Nasri’s dummy-spitting was to provide a second half as pulsating and thrilling as any we’ve seen this season.
Those of us who, naively, thought Norwich would see more of the ball in the second period were proved wrong. Such is the quality of the individuals in Mancini’s squad we were still forced to spend long periods chasing and harrying.
The list was endless but to cite just two examples, the ability of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to retain possession and pick a pass at speed when under pressure was truly brilliant. The slick and incisive way the ball was pinged around was the stuff that champions are made of, and pretty much negated their one player handicap.
It pains me to say it, but even Gareth Barry – that same lump that caused such toe-curling embarrassment to us English in the 2010 World Cup – plodded around the midfield to great effect.
Some – if not all – of the goals conceded had an element of the ‘could have been avoided’ about them, but were just the product of the intense pressure that Man City put their opposition under.
As always, there were loads of ifs, buts and maybes, but the bottom line is that Mancini’s boys are a class act – the end result of riches far beyond the comprehension of most of us. For Norfolk’s City to even compete with that – whatever the circumstances – speaks volumes about the resolution and sheer stubbornness that this current crop of Canaries have at their disposal.
Yes, we may lack a little finesse at times, but finesse of the kind we witnessed yesterday is currently a tad out of our price range. But in its place Hughton has instilled some belief, tactical awareness and good old fashioned guts and determination that allows us to go toe-to-toe with all-comers.
Readers of this column will know that this River-Ender spends an infinite amount of his time defending Steve Morison from those who deem his contribution in a yellow shirt unworthy. Eleven or twelve minute cameos with the very occasional start thrown are hardly conducive to a good run of form – the kind he displayed in the first half of last season – but his first half showing yesterday smacked of someone who was ‘well up for it’. A high success-rate in the air, some good hold-up play and a couple of dangerous crosses suggested a good afternoon was in store; it was therefore a shame for the team, and Morison himself, that his afternoon was cut short through injury .
Worthy also of a mention was the late contribution of Jonny Howson who – after waiting patiently for several weeks – gave us the perfect demonstration of ‘how to play yourself into the starting XI’. Now assisted by Johnson’s fifth yellow card (enjoy New Year’s Eve Bradley), Howson looks certain to line-up alongside Alex Tettey at Upton Park.
So… three consecutive defeats, hot on the heels of the unbeaten run. However, with each one being by just the odd goal I’m not expecting a huge dent in the confidence. Such is their mental strength they won’t be at all fazed at the prospect of facing Allardyce and his bunch of lovable rogues.
We’ve had the expected ups and down, but 2012 has been a fantastic year for Norwich City – let’s hope 2013 brings us the same and more.
We have much to be proud of.