Oh ye of little faith.
Despite the prophesies of the doom-mongers, for most I suspect yesterday was actually quite enjoyable. At least I hope it was.
To have snaffled a point from Sheikh Mansour’s expensively assembled team of chess pieces was massive, not only because it just about keeps the Canary heads above water in terms of the relegation battle, but because of the belief it will hopefully have instilled in supporters and players alike.
Forget the bravado that’s emanated from Colney of late. While the horse’s mouth is unlikely to admit that the confidence and belief have waned a little, you can bet your life one or two doubts have crept in.
However professional the mindset, footballers are human beings and events in Cardiff and the Etihad – back in November – would both surely have left their mark. But you wouldn’t have known.
Instead Chris Hughton’s 4-2-3-1 worked like just it did in his dreams on Friday night with his troops absorbing pressure galore but always looking a genuine threat on the break – not something that’s been said too often when playing with just one up front.
For all Man City’s possession and intricate football it was the other City who created probably the two best chances of the match; Nathan Redmond and Anthony Pilkington both spurning opportunities that will no doubt have been replayed many times in their minds last evening.
Alas, both of them, with Joe Hart in their sights, failed to make England’s current ‘number one’ make a save, and if there could be a quibble on an otherwise good afternoon that was it. Along with the odd stray pass.
But I’m being picky. If Paddy Power had offered us the draw at 14:55 I don’t think a single member of the Yellow Army would have turned him down.
Alex Tettey’s return to the midfield has provided a huge boost to a unit that was flagging. His rock-steady influence at the base of the midfield – with Bradley Johnson for company yesterday – has afforded a rejuvenated Leroy Fer the chance to operate in more advanced areas, a little closer to Gary Hooper.
And it worked. When the visitors had the ball (68 per cent of the time according to the BBC) the Canaries filtered back into their 4-2-3-1 and from from that base Hughton’s men showed commendable discipline and restraint.
The pockets of Carrow Road who urged those in yellow to press high up the pitch and ‘get in their faces’ were thankfully ignored and instead the shape was maintained, the 4-2-3-1 shifted across the pitch as a unit, gaps were closed and the Sky Blues were forced down many a cul-de-sac.
As a result any joy Manuel Pellegrini’s men had came from wide positions but invariably there was a yellow body in the way to block off the cross at the near post. Again, just how it worked on the Prozone plan.
And Carrow Road duly responded.
Gone were the moans and groans, the venom and animosity. Instead the old placed, united in adversity, matched the efforts of those on the pitch; every sinew being strained with each canary soul pulling in the same direction. And when we do that we still have a little something about us. No question.
For their part, the visitors were – dare I say it – a little disappointing. Despite Pellegrini trotting out chapter five in his book of excuses – “Negredo has had a problem with his shoulder … Sergio [Aguero] has a lot of days more [to recover] … Dzeko’s ankle is not in a good condition …” – we shouldn’t feel too sorry for them.
In the absence of the three aforementioned strikers being 100 per cent fit – two of whom featured yesterday – the beleaguered Chilean had no option to turn to Stevan Jovetić (who alone accounted for Norwich’s summer transfer outlay) while the absence in midfield of Fernandinho was covered by an England international, albeit one by the name of James Milner.
So impressive was the defending of those in front of him, John Ruddy was afforded little opportunity to impress in his match-up with the current England incumbent, and only twice was he called upon to deny Pellegrini’s walking wounded. Fortunately on both occasions the Big Man responded and in truth turned in a commanding display every bit as imposing as his opposite number.
Joseph Yobo, on debut, also cut a calm and imposing figure at the back but – one hyped-up ‘canary-caller’ aside – barely warranted a mention in the post-match huddle. And that’s to his credit. No mistakes, no fuss, simple passing and aerial dominance; just how Hughton described him when ‘selling’ him to David McNally.
We’re constantly reminded that the sign of a good referee is one who goes unnoticed (Note: John Moss didn’t go unnoticed yesterday). Ditto central defenders.
The Nigerian’s Canary bow was all the more impressive given how little football he’s played this season. One in the eye for those who scoffed at the signing of a “33 year-old has-been”.
Of course yesterday’s point and promise will count for little if we’re unable to build upon it, but this week’s trip to Green Street gives us the chance to do just that. Yes, the Hammers may have won yesterday (against you know who) but remain in the relegation mix and they’re there for a reason.
The stats point to City needing to win an away game or two to free themselves from the mire and for that to happen on Tuesday night the East End needs to be painted yellow. And with the Yellow Army expected to turn up in their usual numbers Hughton’s men can expect a raucous backdrop in their attempt to return to Norfolk with three points.
If those on and off the pitch can replicate the togetherness of yesterday then we have a chance.
Let’s keep believing…