I’ve been a bit of a fan of Match of the Day 2 – at least until now.
Its more relaxed and, occasionally, slightly irreverent look at the weekend’s football has always provided a refreshing antidote to the starchy, staid and sometimes laborious analysis of its more famous big brother. The Prince Harry to Saturday night’s Prince William if you like.
Alas, after watching Danny Mills’ attempt to pour cold water on what had been a famous Carrow Road afternoon my view on said programme has been temporarily dulled. That’s no reflection on its presenter, Mark Chapman – or even fellow pundit, Kevin Kilbane – but the sight and sound of a son of Norfolk trying to convince me that “in the first-half some Norwich players hid up” was more than a little irksome to this River-Ender.
And it’s not like I’m touchy about folk bemoaning the efforts of those in yellow. The lower N&P is decked wall-to-wall with folk who do just that, so for Danny Boy to get the heckles rising courtesy of a few ill-chosen words was quite an achievement.
Far be it for me to doubt the words of one who had such an illustrious career once he’d freed himself of the Norfolk shackles, but it did strike me – and others – as a little odd that a decent first-half performance could be dissected in such a negative fashion.
Yes, the passing was a little ‘tippy-tappy’ early on – probably borne of a dearth of confidence – and a few passes did go astray, but no-one faltered, no-one shirked and most certainly no-one “hid”.
I hesitate to use the word, but if I were Chris Hughton and his men I’d be more than a little insulted at the suggestion.
But lets put the twisted remarks of one who should know better to one side and concentrate on the facts.
For the second consecutive home game City kept a clean sheet against an inhabitant of the top five, only this time they were able to convert one of several gilt-edged chances; Robert Snodgrass succeeding where too many have tried and failed.
Snoddy was, of course, one of the guilty few at Upton Park but, courtesy of the sweetest of through balls from Bradley Johnson (more about him later), was this time able to use that left-foot to gloriously find the bottom corner of the Lloris net. Cue Carrow Road delirium.
And it was no more than City deserved. Despite the first-half being a tad uneventful – and when you’re Norwich playing Tottenham ‘uneventful’ is generally a good thing – most in the ground acknowledged that City had ‘edged it’.
But for some profligacy in the final third (sound familiar?) City may well have taken the lead before half-time but the age-old deficiency of finding a quality final ball again meant an opposing keeper had been afforded an easier ride that Hughton would have hoped.
Again, much of the interval talk was around City more than holding their own and how they may live to regret not making more of their opportunities in the final third. I may have mentioned to a neighbour or two (or anyone who would listen for that matter…) that it was hard to imagine Tottenham being as awful in the second period.
And in truth they weren’t. Whether prompted by the Snodgrass goal, or by some wise Sherwood words, the Lilywhites did find another gear after the break and did show flashes of the team that took City to the cleaners back in September. But only a few.
Moussa Dembele is a slippery customer who had me shuffling uncomfortably in my green plastic seat as the second half progressed, and did invoke the odd September flash-back, but on this occasion he was met head-on by a City midfield that denied him the time and space to weave too many of those mesemerising patterns.
Alex Tettey, Leroy Fer and the aforementioned Johnson were immense yesterday and were the springboard upon which City’s victory was based. Terrible cliches aside, there were thirteen heroes in yellow, but said trio refusing to take a backward step in the centre of the pitch was key.
Tettey’s return to the side has been massive – and has been well documented – and Fer operating in advanced areas proved an unqualified success, but standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the pair yesterday was a midfield warrior who showed, almost for the first time, a hitherto unseen quality on the ball.
Of late, Johnson has not been without his critics – I’ve expressed my own frustration at the quality of his passing on numerous occasions – but yesterday his entire game was on the money for the full ninety-three.
He tackled, he chased, he closed down but, crucially, when asked to deliver the killer-ball he did so to absolute perfection. And, in fairness, he did exactly the same against West Ham – only for Gary Hooper to be thwarted by Adrián. On both occasions the weight and deftness of touch was far removed from the marauding battler we’ve grown to love.
Andrea Pirlo he’ll never be, but if he can consistently add the slide-rule pass to his armoury then there’ll be few grumbles from these parts and, far more importantly, the invention in Hughton’s own midfield armoury will be enhanced by a notch or two.
Ditto his ability to shoot from distance. Until the emergence of Nathan Redmond, Johnson has always been the biggest threat to those sitting in row Z – but if his thundering free-kick was a sign of things to come then perhaps looking ahead Snodgrass can occasionally be relieved of his duties from 25 to 30 yards.
It would be remiss not to mention John Ruddy’s contribution yesterday and one can only hope Roy Hodgson was tuned in to Sky Sports 1 from the comfort of his Nice hotel room. More of the same and the Big Man will surely be Brazil bound in four months time.
Finally I have a confession. Three generations of Gowers’ were present in the River End yesterday and only one failed to predict a City win.
Thankfully the occasionally illogical but always unshakable faith of one who witnessed first-hand the 1959 cup run was matched by the blind optimism of a brain-washed nine year-old. Only the gnarled cynicism of a forty-something let the side down… as if to confirm just how little I know.
So… after a traumatic few weeks and more than a few disappointments, yesterday was a good one. And for a few days at least it feels as if we’re just a little bit united. Follow it up with a good result next Sunday and the world will start to look a little different.
Early days of course – small steps etc – but for the first time in a while our momentum is in a forward direction. Let’s enjoy the moment and put the wider debate on ice.
I’ll not leave he final word to Danny Mills. Instead that must go to Gowers Junior who, with the adrenalin still pumping, summed up perfectly the thoughts of 25,000 as the players deservedly milked the post-match applause.
“We can actually be quite good can’t we Dad!”
That’s my boy…