I was just about to scream abuse at the telly when something extraordinary happened. Alan Hansen said something incisive.
The screen showed stats from Chelsea’s victory over Hull. Jose Mourinho’s men had marginally more possession, at 52 to 48 per cent. And they had a slightly better pass completion, at 85.5 to 83.5 per cent.
I had been working at the Stamford Bridge match. I didn’t doubt the figures, but knew the implication that it had been a fairly even contest was drivel.
Yet, just as I cleared my throat to shout at Match of the Day 2, Hansen began to debunk the statistics. He explained that Chelsea’s possession and completed passes were largely in and around the Hull penalty area. For their part, Steve Bruce’s boys retained the ball well at times – but only in their own half in the hope that nobody wearing blue would get too close.
Chelsea (operating with only one striker, by the way) won the game in the first 24 minutes and then put on the cruise control – proving that football stats without elaboration can usher us away from the truth.
Bradley Johnson has suffered from this. Perhaps that is why he is hiding behind that shocking beard.
According to various stats – there are different companies which provide them from games and they seldom agree on the numbers – bearded Bradley gives the ball away rather a lot and doesn’t provide many penetrative passes.
Yes, but that would be because of his job.
He is the screen in front of our defence, in combat every week with opposition forwards and attacking midfielders – the best creative talents in the most competitive division on the planet.
His task is to chivvy and harass, bully and block. He must get something – anything – in front of shots and passes. He must scuffle and scurry to protect and save.
If he manages to gain clean possession then his next primary task is to secure that possession: give the ball to a team-mate who is better placed or under less pressure. But he has to do that in the busiest, most populated part of the field.
Last season I thought he was a candidate for City’s player of the season. The stats said otherwise, but I saw with my own eyes. I watched game after game when Brad scrapped to keep Norwich in the contest.
And when this campaign restarted with that home draw against Everton, I thought hairy Johnson was outstanding once more, particularly as his midfield partner, Johnny Howson, was surging forward more (probably encouraged by those two spectacular goals at the end of the last season as well as by the management).
There were more misleading stats from the game. One set said Everton had enjoyed 67 per cent of the possession: an extraordinary figure for a visiting team. Opta, the company used by the Press Association and the BBC, later declared Everton’s possession to have been only 56 per cent – still good but not so substantially better than Norwich to raise alarms.
Frankly, either way, the Carrow Road stats don’t tell the story with any more clarity than those from the Stamford Bridge game.
Roberto Martinez set out his team very interestingly. Despite what the graphics displayed by Sky and MotD said, Marouane Fellaini started in a Johnson role – just in front of his defence. In that deep deployment, he nullified Wesley Hoolahan, and so blunted one of City’s most potent weapons.
Martinez had told his fullbacks to push forward and gave Ross Barkley licence to roam. The tactics were very un-Moyse. They belied the notion that Everton might struggle under Martinez – if they keep Fellaini. We must hope they do retain him. We don’t want to face him three times this season.
The general appraisal of Everton, though, was that a good team played very well. In the period during which they overturned our lead and took one for themselves, they looked likely winners.
They didn’t win, though. Norwich showed a resilience and ability which filled me with hope, especially when I factored in how many probable “starters” were out injured or suspended.
I’d say there were at least four missing. Last season, if we’d lost four first choice players, we’d have lost the match.
But that was before a summer like none any of us who care about the great club from the fine city have ever experienced before.
Ron Saunders signed David Cross from Rochdale and Jim Bone from Partick for his strike force. John Bond mostly shopped at Bournemouth, his former club.
Ken Brown raided Spurs for a job lot of their reserves – Ian Crook, Ian Culverhouse, Mark Bowen and John Polston – to provide the core of the team which Mike Walker took to third place in the first ever Premier League table and then on a rampage into Europe.
The single most influential signing of all time was possibly the Boxing Day 2003 capture of Darren Huckerby. Then, the following season, Dean Ashton was drafted in during January to try to keep Norwich in the Premier League.
Huckerby was a fringe player at Manchester City before he joined us. Ashton was a promising talent at Crewe. And when it was Paul Lambert’s turn to buy for the top division, he stuck with the philosophy of seeking men with hunger and potential.
But, after keeping the vow to pay off all external debt by the end of May, the board kept another promise: to make building a strong team the absolute priority. Norwich have never, ever, shopped as ambitiously and as extravagantly for top, top players as they did in the summer we have just enjoyed.
The raft of exciting arrivals have raised expectations. So there was disappointment in some quarters that Everton were not swatted aside.
And there were some aspects of the match which will have concerned Chris Hughton. Here’s another stat, for instance: Ricky van Wolfswinkel only had 12 moments on the ball. That means that either he didn’t make himself available enough, didn’t challenge effectively enough or didn’t get sufficient service. I think all three were factors.
But again, the stats don’t reveal the whole truth. Because one of his touches was that sublime header. That single touch prompted those comedy howls from the Yellow Army which I believe will echo through this tantalising season.
And never forget the most significant numbers. Number of consecutive seasons in the Premier League: three. Amount of money owed to banks and other institutional lenders: nil. Cash spent on players this summer: £25 million.
The turn-around since 2009 is one of the greatest football success stories of the modern era. And it hasn’t finished yet.
These are exhilarating times to be a Norwich supporter. Those who carp and quibble now must just enjoy being miserable.
I figured that out for myself, without worrying about statistics.