There are 21 Championship games left. Fractionally over 45 per cent of the campaign still to go.
Is that sufficient for the great club from the fine City to claw back the eight-point gap advantage the current top two have?
Well, I imagine the rest of the division thinks it is unlikely. But the view from the back row of the Yellow Army’s encampment at the Goldsands Stadium, Bournemouth, convinced me it is definitely do-able.
My MFW colleague Gary Gowers says “It’s a little easy to over-eulogise” the win on the South Coast. Elsewhere, another blogger says: “Let’s not get carried away.” And, infamously, I am prone to preach about tempering our expectations.
But, for once, stuff that.
Bournemouth are not top by accident. Even after their defeat by us, they have harvested just under two points a game. They’ve scored in all but one of their games and are top of the goals per game table.
They move the ball slickly, aided by a lot of clever movement off the ball. They work in units, pressing high up the field one moment but getting numbers back in their own territory the next. They have a no-stars work ethic. And, sure enough, after we’d more than matched them for 18 minutes, they scored the first goal, as they have done in 80 per cent of their home matches.
We hit back to equalise. But then Johnny Howson was sent off and Ryan Bennett, who had come on as a sub, pulled up with a hamstring strain during a Bournemouth attack. There were no more defenders on the bench.
There appeared to be a lot of confusion about how we should reorganise. Alex Neil was in the technical area, but Phelan, Three Lungs and goal-keeping coach Tony Parks were giving instructions too and Russ Martin, the skipper, made at least two return trips to the side of the pitch for clarification.
Oh Lord! I turned to my brother-in-law (a late sub for my wife, who had a flimsy alibi of having to work). We agreed that if City could somehow cling on for a point it would be a miracle.
Pah! Alex Tettey went to right back, Martin moved back to the central position he had only recently vacated for Bennett. Steady Eddie Gary O’Neill came on for Bennett and, of course, stationed himself in a midfield which was, not so predictably, reinforced by Cameron Jerome. Gary Hooper braced himself for a loan sojourn in attack.
Then, with what turned out to be 16 long minutes still to go, Nathan Redmond was replaced by Kyle Lafferty (who was presumably instructed to play responsibly for once and not get himself booked or worse).
As Jerome told the club’s official video team, the plan was to cling on to the point. The only attacking intent was to sneak forward occasionally to give the defence a breather and perhaps force a corner.
But, as he demonstrated at Brentford much earlier in the season, Jerome has a skill which no Norwich central forward has owned for several yonks: the ability to make room for himself and let loose an accurate, devastating shot from outside the area.
Bang. 1-2! Who knew my brother-in-law could make so much noise?
So, what will the new Neil have learned from an epic, extraordinarily well-structured, remarkably resilient and quality-packed performance?
He’ll have gleaned that his favoured 4-1-4-1 might not be the best system for us. Hooper was outstanding operating just behind Jerome when we had 11 on the pitch.
Neil must have noted how the goal we conceded was alarmingly straight forward. Steven Whittaker couldn’t prevent his man from dispatching a decent but unremarkable cross from the right. Martin Olsson, who had shuffled across to the middle, jumped under the ball. Matt Richie cut in front of Bradley Johnson to score with a first-time shot.
Our new manager will also have recorded that when Redmond isn’t on his game his attacking play can be predictable and blunt and his defensive contributions often include poor covering and wayward distribution.
So, there’s work to be done. It’s possible that there are reinforcements to be hurried into the squad in the next few weeks.
Yet Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe said something important when he did a job on Norwich at Carrow Road in August, and repeated it after we’d done a better job on his team at his place: the City squad has more quality than is the norm for the Championship.
What have we learned about Neil? Well, the board are obviously trying to recreate one aspect of what we had with Paul Lambert: a young, hungry, ambitious manager for whom Norwich City represent a tremendous opportunity and not just another entry on a long CV.
We have seen that Neil is a good communicator, who does not um and er. He definitely has an impressive aura of confidence and purpose.
And Neil will have learned a lot about us, the Norwich fans.
Hamilton Accies have an average home attendance of 2,688. That’s what we take to a routine away game. We had 10,000 for an under-21 game on Friday night, sold out our 1,200 allocation at Bournemouth so quickly that many regular travellers to away games were angered. And, what Neil must have noted, is that if we are given any encouragement at all by events on the pitch, our fans can roar for almost every second of 90 minutes.
It was magnificent and life-affirming to be part of the yelling Yellows and to witness an achievement which has warned the teams above us. It was why I go to football: for catharsis, for release, for being engulfed in spontaneous, collective, uncontrolled, jibbering joy.
Twenty-one games. So much to play for. Everything to play for. Four of the teams above us have to come to Carrow Road.
As someone once said: Come on! Let’s be having you.
Axel Line says
Blimey – I think you must have been imbibing whatever Delia did on that infamous occasion..or supped too much of the Dorset coast air.
It was a great win with bags of character butlet’s take a deep breath and see what the next 5 games bring before hanging out the bunting.
Despite their reverses, the top 2 still must be odds on for the auto places – Mick Mc. has the T-shirt (twice) for this division.
Stewart Lewis says
Oh, no – another happy-clapper piece from Mick. Doesn’t he realise how badly we’re treated by the club – which even had the audacity to appoint a manager I’ve never heard of. Appalling.
@StewartLewis Just because you had never heard of Alex Neil doesn’t mean it’s an appalling decision by the board or that they have treated us badly. Your constant badgering of the board, no matter what they do, good or bad is completely unproductive. I, like most Canaries fans, did not know who Alex Neil was until Wednesday. However, like most fans, the more I read and hear about our new manager, the more I see it as an inspired decision by the board.
If being a happy clapper is what you class as someone who supports there club and it’s decisions, then I feel sorry for you. This football is far stronger when we are all behind it. So please, get behind this decision. That’s the least you should be doing right now.
Stewart Lewis says
Daniel (3): Whoa! I’m a fully paid-up happy clapper who’s spent most of the past week defending the Board and telling the sceptics exactly what you’ve just said. I assumed that regular readers would know, and that my irony was heavy enough to signal it to anyone else.
I agree with you 100% – apologies that I wasn’t clear enough for you to know it. If you’re at Carrow Road next Sat, we’ll both be roaring our heads off for Alex Neil and the lads.
That was about as big a three points as it’s possible to win. What a day! I used the word “aura” myself on another comments page. What a start on Alex Neil’s first full day in the job!
Can’t wait to hear the reception he gets at Carra Rd on Saturday.
This great victory won’t mean anything unless we beat Cardiff, and they’ll be buoyant after their first win in a while, and with their proper colours back. But it’ll be even nicer to beat them in blue and white!
(Hey Daniel, the words hook, line, and sinker spring to mind!)
Mick Dennis says
Daniel, thanks for the fervent backing. But Stewart is an even more fervent supporter of my writing — and of our club. He was attempting irony. I gave that idea up years ago. OTBC
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks, Mick. Apologies for muddying the water – esp when we’re (almost) all on the same page!
Michael D says
I’m going to take on Axel Line (1) here in favour of Mick, especially since after feeling that the top two were odds on for the automatic promotion places, he in fact erred in thinking that Ipswich were still one of those two. They were in fact ejected by Chris Martin, so now there is just 1 point between the top 3 and we are only 8 behind. If I recall, in the season we were promoted under Lambert we caught up about 8 points to move into second position in far fewer games than 21. If we play more consistently to our ability in this second half we will get there.
If I have a concern, I don think Mick Phelan is also important, and thus I hope we don’t end up with too many cooks, so that he decides to leave Alex Neil to it. I don’t think Phelan was happy about Neil taking a fair bit of the credit for a win that Phelan and Holt had in fact engineered, and I do think his experience is vital. But still I look forward to the assault on the top!
North Wales Canary says
Dare to dream…..my gut reaction is telling me the stars are aligning….I’ve not felt this positive since a certain Scot was in charge. I hope we can keep hold of Phelan to work alongside AN; however, did you see Phelan at the end of the game….straight down the tunnel and no handshakes with anyone.
Sometimes, after the kind of season went had, a little optimism bordering on happy delusion is just what’s needed. Thanks Mick. MLS
Axel Line says
Re: Michael(8)- if you are getting picky, then I meant the current top 3! The two Mc’s (Derby/Ipswich) are vastly experienced as is Howe despite his young age.
That has to be worth a few points in a promotion run in. I suspect MP will not be hanging around, so AN’s inexperience at this level may stop us getting in the top 2 but could give us a shot in the playoffs. Either Watford & Brentford will crack hopefully.
The home games against Derby & Ipswich will be fascinating to see if exhuberant youth can get the better of the gnarled veterans in the dug out.
Re: Daniel(3) – eat more spinach. It’s full of iron(y).
Stewart Lewis (4) & Mick (6): My apologies. I’ll bare that in mind in the future.
ShinyShoes (5) & Axel Line (11): The term ‘Snide’ rings to mind.
Stewart Lewis says
Daniel (12): no problem; more my fault than yours. Mick knows better than to attempt irony – and he’s an infinitely better writer than I am.
Axel Line says
Daniel(13) – I prefer ‘sarcastic’. I was only offering sensible nutritional advice.
Axel Line (14): No problem. Thank you.