For all of the pain and suffering of the last few weeks (months even), the sheer joy/relief/elation triggered by that final blast of Howard Webb’s whistle made it all worthwhile.
Seldom has the old place rocked like it did yesterday (yes… the clappers played their part too) with the scenes and decibel levels right up there with those that followed Simeon Jackson’s last gasp winner against Derby County.
But it was never about us; for all the hype it still came down to XI v XI and, on a day when it really mattered, Chris Hughton and the players delivered.
While – like many of us I suspect – my pre-match mood swung uncontrollably from bullish optimism to resigned pessimism, there was always an underlying feeling that such an afternoon would separate the men from the boys; that some would rise to the occasion while others would shrink and disappear.
The big question in my mind (we’ve long since established what a simplistic ‘tool’ it is) was would there be a sufficient number of puffed-out chests to see us over the line – enough at least to carry along those who didn’t fancy it.
By casting our minds back to the 2005 horror show at Craven Cottage (as opposed to the 2012 version) it was clear those who were ‘up for it’ were outnumbered by those who – for a host of different reasons – felt unable to raise themselves for that one final push.
Alas, my fears were unfounded as, to a man, those in yellow took not one backward step. From minute one to minute ninety-three they were ‘on it’ – every single one of them – and from somewhere found a performance right up there with anything we’ve seen in the McNally and Bowkett years.
Of course there are those – possibly with the semblance of a case – who argue the Baggies were already half-way to a faraway beach, but still there was a job to be done; an occasion to be handled. I prefer instead to think of City’s intensity being such the visitors were simply unable to handle it.
Whatever the West Brom mindset, a nervous, twitchy start from City would have given them a foothold and, with a fair sprinkling of quality in their line-up, they had more than enough to cause us problems; Steve Clarke the type to demand a performance even if it were a Sunday morning kickaround.
But it didn’t happen… and never looked like happening.
The tone was set early on with both full-backs showing real attacking intent – a phenomenon seldom seen this side of Christmas – Russell Martin in particular looking every inch the bombing-on cavalier that he did in the Lambert years; Javier Garrido too giving the Snake Pit some all too rare glimpses of his attacking prowess.
The irony of Grant Holt crossing for Robert Snodgrass to score the first goal was not lost on anyone I’m sure – as if anyone cared – but it was fortuitous that for once our favourite Scot had no cause to check back on to his favoured left foot; his shot into the roof of Foster’s net a thing of beauty given its significance. Worthy of a mention too was that towering header from the excellent Ryan Bennett – his knock-down giving a scampering Wes Hoolahan a sniff before Snodgrass did the rest.
And, although none of us realised, it was game over. The big question at the time – having got their noses in front – was could City sustain such a high level of intensity; questions even being raised in the week over the fitness-levels of Hughton’s charges.
The answer was an emphatic yes, with there being no sign of a Canary let-up at any stage. Even with WBA having a short ‘spell’ near the end of the first-half at no stage did they look like hurting City; Bassong and Bennett doing an admirable impression of the Bassong and Turner of last November.
While some may speak of lady luck’s intervention ahead of Grant Holt’s joyous stroll into the bosom of the River End… who cares? Think the Stadium of Light; think the Emirates; think Upton Park on New Year’s Day.
City were overdue a slice of good fortune; still credits in hand in fact.
The ovation afforded to the skipper upon his exit was spine-tingling and not only represented what may or may not lie ahead for our talisman, but also that we’d just witnessed 86 minutes of the Grant Holt of old; chest puffed out, snarling, taking no prisoners… just how we like him.
If it does turn out to be his last Carrow Road hurrah – although I suspect it won’t be – then he saved almost the best for last; Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley given the most uncomfortable of afternoons by the big man.
While Ryan Bennett’s afternoon was more than deserving of the third goal – a fine celebration nonetheless – credit should instead go to McAuley who is now only a couple of goals away from entering City’s table of all-time leading goalscorers. Indeed, when nominations next open, I shall be proposing the said gent for a place in City’s Hall of Fame.
For Jonny Howson – ably assisted by a couple of excellent Luciano Becchio touches – to seal the deal in such spectacular style was merely the icing on a very sticky, cholesterol laden cake; the type of goal we’ve been waiting 37 games to see.
For one to fly in from outside the box was further confirmation it was City’s day – Wes also going close with that first-half pile-driver – and was the signal for relief so palpable the collective sigh from the River End was nigh on audible (at least it would have been had it not been for those damn clappers… ).
So… we took what seemed like an age to do it, but we got there in the end.
Was it agonising?
Did it hurt at times?
Were there times when our faith was tested?
Are our nerves still in shreds?
Yes, on all counts… of course; but was it worth every bitten finger nail and grey hair (for some anyway)?
You bet it was.
Finally a word for Chris Hughton; the target of several flying brickbats of late. While many have been unhappy with the fare on offer, certainly since Christmas, he came up trumps when it mattered most. Let’s hope the swagger on show yesterday may be a sign of things to come; if nothing else it proves we can win a game by more than the odd goal.
The gaffer had several tricky calls to make yesterday – including whether to recall John Ruddy – and he got them all right; every single one.
We asked them to Never mind the danger… they delivered.
WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE