You know it’s been a good day when your side receives post-match praise – however begrudging – from opposition supporters. Yesterday was one of those.
Derby fans – no doubt relieved that their off-colour team managed to squirm a point out of a game in which they had been thoroughly out-played – were lavish in their praise of City’s performance; the consensus being that both teams will be ‘there or thereabouts’.
Who knows if City fans would have been on the receiving end of the love if Cameron Jerome’s late effort had fizzed under instead of over Lee Grant’s crossbar but the iPro faithful could have had few complaints if it had.
It was undoubtedly a performance right up there with the best the Canaries have produced this season, but also quintessentially ‘City’ in the way that long spells of dominance were rewarded with just a single point. Again they were left to rue a couple of defensive lapses, both of which served to take the lustre of what should have been a triumphant afternoon.
But on this occasion it feels – in finest of footballing traditions- that it was an afternoon where the positives far out-weighed the negatives, and it’s those we should be focusing on.
Again, for the third week running, Team Adams were victors in the tactical battle and in the game of chess that is Championship football they had Steve McLaren and co in checkmate for large chunks of the afternoon.
The decision to leave the starting XI unchanged from that which started against Huddersfield was justified and, against a side with a reputation for keeping the ball, City’s two banks of four (and with either Cameron Jerome and Gary Hooper dropping off to support the midfield when the Rams had possession) denied the hosts any time or comfort on the ball.
And it *almost* worked just how Messrs Adams, Holt and Phelan planned it in the Colney bootroom.
That City’s wing-less wonders were so successful in both denying Derby any sort of momentum and in zipping the ball around nicely when in possession was confirmation that the plan was executed almost to perfection.
While not a huge fan of a midfield that relies on Bradley Johnson to provide a semblance of width on the left there is no denying the key role he plays in making it difficult for the opposition, and Adams will for sure see his role in the recent upturn as significant.
To paraphrase Robin Sainty’s fine piece in yesterday’s EDP, the sight of Bradders using his energy and effort in the opposition half sits far more comfortably than the failed experiment to convert him to a deep-sitting midfield play-maker. He runs, he chases, he harries and generally makes life uncomfortable for opponents; that’s what he does best and his new licence to ‘join in’ also offers him a sight or two of goal.
Ditto the use of the excellent Jonny Howson as the right-sided midfielder who tucks in to make it tight and who also provides terrific support to Steven Whittaker, especially early on. It’s one that has bears the hallmarks of a Colney brainstorm from which the ‘new boy’ reiterated the occasional need for pragmatism ahead of idealism.
And seven points from the last nine suggests it’s working.
The temptation to throw last week’s match winner, Nathan Redmond, into the fray from minute one was resisted in deference to sticking with the newly formulated plan; Wes Hoolahan too having to wait until the final quarter to get those feet dancing.
Interestingly, for the second consecutive game the two aforementioned subs and Lewis Grabban all impacted on the game upon their arrival and, despite some probable disquiet at currently having a bit part, all three are finding some of their best form at an opportune time.
And this is one of the reasons why, while we still remain outside the play-off places and eight points adrift of top-of-the-table Bournemouth, this mini-turnaround in fortunes is slowly starting to get the juices flowing again.
There are not too many teams in the division who possess a bench as potent as City’s. How many have a Hoolahan or a Redmond to turn to if some creativity is needed? Or if you need to conjure up a goal from nothing?
But right now it isn’t about individuals. It’s about the team. From the management to the players to the supporters – who for the record were magnificent yesterday – we do, for the time being at least, all appear to be pulling in the same direction.
All of a sudden the players are performing to a level we expect; the team, while perhaps not greater, is at least equivalent to the sum of its parts. Once again we look a unit as opposed to eleven disparate individuals, with each player knowing precisely what is expected of him.
As a result, with 22 games played, we find ourselves in decent fettle. Nothing to go overboard about, still plenty of hard graft ahead, but at least with a modicum of momentum and on an upward curve.
And, given where we found ourselves post-Reading, I’ll take that. I’m sure we all will.
Onwards and upwards.
Happy Christmas folks!
Stewart Lewis says
All true, Gary, and no-one will be surprised to hear me share your upbeat assessment.
However, it IS only three games and it WAS only one point yesterday. We’re still catching up and need to build on the momentum; we’re faced with two winnable-looking games (again) and this time we have to capitalise. The outlook post-Reading (part 1) was grim – let’s see what the outlook will be post-Reading (part 2).
I was approached by a couple of Derby fans on my way back to the station after the game, who said “we were the best team by far too visit Pride Park this season”.
They were honest enough to admit that their team wasn’t on top form at the moment and they were relieved to earn a point from a game which they could easily have lost.
City seem to have rediscovered their mojo and, if we carry on like this, the play offs should be the least of our expectations.
Happy Christmas all! OTBC.
Michael D says
Great article, thanks Gary. The most promising part of the recent upturn appears to be that we have dumped the naïveté we exhibited through the first part of the season, and that did happen with the arrival of Phelan, though Neil Adams also clearly knew it was a liability.
The test now remains whether the last three types of performances can be sustained, which we failed to do earlier. Whilst we all have our hope back again there is a long way to go. Two wins from the next two games and we could still be 7th. Overall from the 2nd half of the season we probably need at least 10 points more than the first half, even assuming we beat Millwall, to get near the automatic promotion places, and 6 points or so more to guarantee the playoff places.
So we need consistency now – and the sum of equation continuing to grow. Let’s hope the omens do portend well!
Yeah, if we need a demonstration of where consistency can get you then dare I say it, that team down the A140 is where to look. Just ONE defeat in the 18 games since we went there. Frightening.
We’re really reaping the benefits of a regular starting XI. Those players not only have the confidence of knowing the manager believes in them, and that they are likely to be playing, but also of course they now have the opportunity to develop an understanding with each other, which is so important in any team game, and was sorely lacking in our poor spell
Another benefit is that the now ‘fringe’ players like Hoolahan, Redmond, Grabban, Lafferty, know they have to perform if and when they get the chance, or it may be a while before they get another start.
We’ll probably never know the influence that Phelan has had, but even if it was merely advising Adams to be more consistent with his selection, then it’s clearly working.