We’ve long known Norwich City never do things the easy way. Already this season we’ve had a fair sprinkling of defeats snatched from the jaws of victory and points thrown away after being in cruise control, but last night they took it to a new level.
I wasn’t at The Valley and so was at the mercy of BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham and his guest summariser Darel Russell (I do love it when ex-players refer to City as ‘we’), and was overjoyed at being able to make the half-time brew free of the sweaty palms that invariably accompany a Norwich away game on the radio.
It sounded an absolute breeze; the ball being pinged around almost at will, loads of chances being created, complete domination of the ball and the home fans baying for blood.
Twitter was ablaze. Ipswich were losing, Huckerby and Eadie were baiting our Suffolk brethren, Rob Butler was talking up a hatful and there was even an outside chance of us gatecrashing our way into the top six.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, actually, in the end nothing, but not before City had somehow conspired to give Charlton a lifeline that, at half-time, looked about as likely as a Portman Road full-house.
That City did actually manage to eke out a win is to be applauded. That the heads didn’t drop when they somehow found themselves at 2-2 is also a bonus – and hasn’t always been the case this season – although of course it would have been better to have avoided that scenario in the first place.
But that’s Championship football and it happens, however disappointing it is at the time (yes, the palms were sweaty). Part of the ongoing Alex Neil conundrum is that it appears to be happening to City a little too frequently but he would have been impressed that last night they – *cliché klaxon* – found a way to win.
As ever Neil’s heart was firmly visible on his sleeve post-match, not only when behind the microphone but also directly upon the final whistle when, by all accounts, he couldn’t wait until his players were in the privacy of the dressing room before discussing how nil became two in the space of seven minutes.
It seems Martin Olsson – him of the talkative agent – was first in line and, having been part of the second-half mini-implosion, was made all too aware of his manager’s thoughts on the matter. While Chris Goreham was told, “we were a wee bit slack” you can be sure the tone and language afforded the Swede and others was rather different.
Olsson, post-rollicking, was seen trudging off the Valley pitch while angrily tearing his gloves off and, if selected on Saturday, will hopefully think twice before dithering and giving the ball away cheaply. 33 years-old and relatively inexperienced he may be but I’m pretty sure Master Neil has quickly imparted the message that he’s not one to be messed with. So too Mad Frankie.
And while it’s still early days it’s hard not to be just a little impressed with how the team is now being managed. Four wins (yes, I’m including Bournemouth), one draw and defeat is a decent start in anyone’s book but, more importantly for me, a method is emerging.
In just six games it has become apparent how he wants his side to play and how it differs from the Neil Adams’ version. Now the tempo is high from minute one to ninety, the opposition pressed high up the pitch, the ball moved quickly and the switched regularly to ‘widen’ the pitch.
Other changes, to us laymen, are probably more subtle but it feels as if roles within the group are clearly defined and every player knows his job. Changes and substitutions, for the most part, tend to be on a like for like basis and so while the personnel may differ, the role remains the same. And – whisper it quietly – it is slowly starting to click.
For it to be better though those ‘wee’ errors need to be eradicated – Olsson will testify. No major defensive surgery needed, and the manager was quick to praise his side’s defensive shape last night, but the freebies have to stop.
If you concede a worldie then, tipping your hat aside, there is little you can do. But to offer goals to opponents on a proverbial plate will not work when promotion is the aim.
And now crunch time is upon us. The acid test.
Starting with Wolves on Saturday and ending with a home with McCarthy’s Marauders on March 1, City now have a run of four games that will go a long way to defining the season. Away trips at Watford and Blackburn are sandwiched between the two aforementioned home games and, by March 2, we’ll have a better idea if the Neil ethos is winning one.
Two wins and two draws anyone?
“Never mind the danger…”