The sight of Eden Hazard’s shot squirming under John Ruddy’s body and trickling over the line was pure and undiluted agony, yet captured in a split-second the fine margins by which games are won and lost at the highest level.
As often seems to be the case we were left bemoaning some big ifs as the Chelsea following wildly celebrated as though on the cusp of the Premier League title.
The first one pertained to our friend Mr Swarbrick who, if he’d chosen to uphold the laws of association football, could and should have given City a penalty early on in the second half when Anthony Pilkington was tripped by Ramires. That he chose not to – nor book the City winger for simulation – was symptomatic of his awful afternoon; the two blatant City ‘corners’ he missed in consecutive first half minutes merely the aperitif for the big call he shirked after the interval.
The other ifs were more of City’s own making and, as many times as Pilkington ran that deft close range header through his mind on Sunday evening, you can be sure he also pictured that sliced and over-hit 85th minute corner.
What followed had rather too many ifs to list, suffice to say Alex Tettey and John Ruddy will both have joined Pilkington with a ponder or two post-match for their respective roles in Hazards’s equaliser. That neither covered themselves in glory was all too painfully obvious but equally both had been magnificent for most of the afternoon and didn’t deserve to end up on the losing side.
And that can be said of the whole team who, once they’d cleared their heads from those fraught opening twenty minutes, gave the King’s Road’s finest a real run for their money. Jose Mourinho was honest enough to admit they’d be given a scare; the catalyst for City’s pulsating second-half according to him being the Demba Ba miss straight after the interval.
From that moment on the Special One “smelled trouble” and with Carrow Road latching on the players belief, City didn’t disappoint him.
For long second half spells City not only matched Abramovich’s playthings but looked the better side; the midfield triumvirate of Leroy Fer, Jonny Howson and Tettey showing a comfort and poise in possession that had been missing early on Sunday afternoon but of which we’d seen some promising glimpses at the Britannia seven days earlier.
If indeed the fluent way the midfield linked up is a sign of things to come there will be few complaints – even those who remain ‘anti’ the manager could have few issues with the verve and tenacity shown for over an hour on Sunday.
Alas, there in a nutshell is the big issue. We played well for an hour – very well – but were made to pay for a shaky opening twenty minutes and an equally fraught closing nine minutes (Swarbrick’s four minutes of injury time merely prolonging the agony). The trick of course is to maintain the optimum level of intensity from minute one to ninety; infinitely easier said than done when confronted with the likes of Chelsea.
That Mourinho chose to turn to Hazard, Willian and Eto’o to save a potential embarrassment also tells a story of its own, with Willian’s transfer value alone usurping the not inconsiderable sums that City spent in the summer.
But that’s where the fine margins come into play. We can rue our bad fortune all day long but when the crunch comes you really do make your own luck. Small mistakes – like Pilks slightly overhitting the corner or Tettey slightly miscontrolling his attempted interception – were not only of our own making, but were of the type unlikely to be made by those in blue shirts.
Similarly Willian’s wonder strike that left Ruddy helpless; a gem that befitted one with £30 miilion boots. In similar circumstances I’m not convinced too many in yellow would have found the top corner in that fashion.
And that’s where we are right now. We’re an improving side (even though some still refuse to believe it) who, with a prevailing wind, are more than capable of upsetting one or two of the big boys, but to do so the fine margins need to fall our way. That didn’t happen on Sunday and when you’ve a hand like Mourinho’s there’s always a trump card available that, when played, will likely tilt the odds back your way. And so it proved.
I wrote, with my Metro hat on, a piece last week that looked back to the last time we beat the Blues – nineteen years ago for the record – and how our respective footballing paths have veered off on very different directions since that day. The basic gist was the obvious one – the haves versus the have nots – yet nothing I witnessed on Sunday, or during any of our recent encounters with them, has altered one jot my belief that the Norwich City way is the right way.
No billionaire benefactors or oligarchs for us, but a solid business model that in record time has seen us bemoaning a narrow defeat to the multi-millionaires of the King’s Road.
We’re Norwich, we’re proud and we’re going to be just fine…