At last… something for the travelling Yellow Army to celebrate. And don’t they deserve it.
The sight of more than half the Smethwick End being swathed in yellow was a heartening one – remarkable really given what’s gone before – and will have given the players a much needed boost before a ball had been kicked.
Given their staple has been to witness thumping – sometimes humiliating – defeats and listless, half-hearted performances, the unswerving loyalty of those who travel is unquestionable and, regardless of any incentives the club may have offered, yesterday’s turnout was superb.
It’s those hardy souls, more than anyone else, who deserved yesterday’s win and it was somehow fitting that Leroy Fer was able to celebrate his late goal with them.
While some have described it as the ‘perfect away performance’, I’m not quite so sure. As alluded to by Chris Hughton afterwards, while it’s OK to soak up pressure and look to hit sides on the break, ideally you still need to have the odd spell of possession that acts as a release valve.
With the second part of that equation not happening, City had to endure a second-half siege of Alamo proportions and therefore even more credit should be given to John Ruddy and his back-four for keeping the unlikeliest of clean sheets.
The return to the defence of Michael Turner and Steven Whittaker worked better than even Hughton could have imagined, with both surviving the sternest of tests; Ryan Bennett and Russell Martin both paying the price for tired looking performances on Merseyside.
Lady luck for once donned a yellow shirt and her feint nudge on Sessegnon when through one-on-one with Ruddy was just enough for him to side-foot wide, similarly Mark Clattenberg’s obscured view when Martin Olsson looked for all the world to have blocked a goal-bound effort with his forearm suggested that for once she was on our side.
But even when blessed with some rare good fortune there is still work to be done to acquire a Premier league win and City’s two goals were both out of the top drawer.
Gary Hooper’s unerring finish for the first was quality and acted as another reminder of his qualities if afforded an opportunity in front of goal. He’s clearly not the type who will regularly create something out of nothing – a la Suarez and Aguero – but give him the much discussed plentiful supply and here is someone who, based on what we’ve seen in the last few weeks, could get 15-20 goals a season.
Straw clutching it may be, but a mini-run of three in the last five suggests there is a little something about the ex-Celtic man that says ‘goals in the locker’, especially when provided with quality service like Leroy Fer’s slide-rule pass. As discussed on Twitter last night, it will be interesting to see the response if supply of a similar ilk can also be afforded to Fer’s compatriot, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, on his return from injury.
The second goal was of course – and please forgive the cliché – the classic sucker punch, but rounded off perfectly an interesting afternoon for Fer; who had been asked by Hughton to perform a slightly different role.
With the manager opting to play two up top, Fer was asked to patrol the left side of the midfield four with Bradley Johnson slotting in alongside Jonny Howson in the centre. When in possession Fer’s job was to tuck in and make a three in the middle although when the Baggies had the ball it was his job to provide support for Martin Olsson wide on the left.
It worked to a degree but there were several nervous moments in the opening forty-five with the bulk of the West Brom threat coming from down their right flank; Olsson too often left exposed one-on-one.
In the second half the home side’s thrust wasn’t confined to their right flank of course, and came from all angles, although even the addition of a City nemesis in the form of Shane Long was insufficient to force the breakthrough; the Irishman having a rare off-day against the Canaries.
It’d be unfair to close without mentioning Ruddy, who looked back to his imperious best yesterday. The Big Man, probably by his own admission, hasn’t been at his England best of late – a little difficult when you find yourself picking the ball out of the net so often – but his overall dominance yesterday was just what was needed.
While he was tested far less that the Baggies’ faithful would have liked, the save from Long’s glancing header, the block with his legs following Olsson’s horror clearance and his general command of his penalty box made for a fine afternoon’s work.
Of course the pain of victory was a little too much for some. The same folk who attributed the win to pure luck. The same folk who are only happy when they’re miserable.
Credit that should be due to Hughton has been scarce from those same factions, with the ‘lucky’ card having been played numerous times in the last few hours. He simply can’t win – pardon the pun.
With City having dominated at home against Villa and Cardiff without picking up three points, many cited the need for a win as being greater than the need for eye-catching football. Well yesterday was one of those. Not a great performance, but three valuable points.
I suspect if a surly Scot had masterminded such a victory he’d have been lauded as a tactical genius…