In true Norwich City fashion there were folk who could barely wait for yesterday’s final whistle to remind us that it was ‘only Huddersfield’ and ‘we were only playing against 10 men’. The very same souls who were swift to throw in a few ‘ifs’ to try and quell the threat of any minor celebration (and probably the same ones who saw fit to boo at the end of the first-half).
If John Ruddy hadn’t made that first-half save from Nahki Wells.
If Murray Wallace had not been sent off.
If City hadn’t managed to score so early in the second-half.
If Nathan Redmond had not been brought on at half-time.
Luckily for City, all of the above did occur and here we are, for the first time in years, mulling over a City win that included five goals. There were even a couple of Canary Call miserablists (probably ‘booers’ also) who attempted to pour cold water on the afternoon but for the majority it was one of the good days.
As ever, the fine margins are those that make the big difference and if (I’m at it now) the rebound from Ruddy’s fine first-half save had hit the net instead of the bar the afternoon would have had a different slant, but there was always an overriding feeling, even during the ordinary first-half, that City always had more than enough in the locker to see off Chris Powell’s Huddersfield.
That Bradley Johnson chipped in with two goals, and probably gave us one his best performances in the yellow shirt, was an added bonus and further confirmation of why I find myself sitting in the River End and Neil Adams, Gary Holt and Mike Phelan sit on the City bench. (And also why my days as assistant-manager at Wenhaston Utd were less than glorious).
After the interval, upon returning to said River End seat armed with a cup of hot chocolate, the news that Redmond’s arrival had been facilitated by taking off Gary O’Neil was met, on my part, with derision.
“Why would you take off the best passer in the side and leave Johnson on?”
Yet it took precisely 44 seconds for me to choke on the hot chocolate; Bradders timely arrival in the box being picked out by perfectly by Gary Hooper’s intelligent back heel.
Those around me were, quite rightly, quick to question my MyFootballWriter writing credentials and, as if I needed any more reminding, 271 seconds later he was at it again; his reactive header to Jonny Howson’s blocked volley further confirmation that Team Adams had made the right call and I know nothing.
In between the brace we were treated to rare the sight of Redmond powering in a far-post header – one a certain Grant Holt would have been proud of – that came courtesy of a glorious, and early, cross from Martin Olsson.
The Swede is one whose form this season has, to date, failed to reach the level of last – not helped by a fractured pre-season – but the last two games have seen signs of the ‘old’ Olsson emerging. A resolute defender, a cavalier attacker who knows when to go and when to stay, and all wrapped up in the sweetest of left feet. His return to form has been both timely and welcome.
But, his Joe Jordan-esque header aside, the star of the show for me was young master Redmond. Gone was the hesitation, the poor delivery, the safe pass. Instead we were presented with the version we saw glimpses of early last season. The one who is capable of progressing from the England Under 21s. The one who can tear teams apart single-handedly.
In terms of wing play it was of a vintage we rarely see and even brought back the odd memory of one the all-time great City performances that occurred eleven years ago to the day. The day that Darren Huckerby said his ‘farewell’ in a 4-1 win over Cardiff before joyously returning for keeps on Boxing Day.
I’m not one to sympathise with opposing players per se, but it was hard not to feel a little for Huddersfield’s half-time substitute Paul Dixon, who was handed the left-back berth at the very worst possible time. Their second-half mis-match was one that breathed new life into the phrase ‘run ragged’.
But it was far from a one-man show. There was much to admire, not least the sight of a rejuvenated Ruddy, whose dominant display – which included two world-class saves from distance in the second period – assured us all that the shenanigans of Reading have been well and truly put to bed.
Carlos Cuellar too was worthy of a mention, given how calmly and assuredly he coped with the unenviable task of quelling a marauding Holt, and he too looks a different player to the early season version that lacked fitness and game time. For once, one suspects the team selection for next weekend won’t involve a debate over who should form the central-defensive pairing.
And so, with Cameron Jerome and Hooper also showing signs of becoming a bona fide striking partnership there were, for once, infinitely more positives than negatives to mull over on the stroll back over Carrow Bridge.
Of course there are sterner tests ahead – starting next Saturday lunchtime – but with two wins on the bounce the ship appears to have been steadied. After the Reading game we were heading for the rocks but six points later and the waters are calmer and the course set for an assault on the play-off places.
Football is weird isn’t it.