After Wednesday night’s defeat to Malky’s Wigan the old ‘it’s how you react to a defeat that’s important’ platitude tripped off the collective tongue.
To have stumbled again at Millwall – which has been a notoriously tricking destination for City in the recent past – would have not only seen City lose ground on the pack but also dent the confidence of a squad that has recently been full of it.
Back to back defeats to two of the bottom three would have also provoked a mini-meltdown in some sections of the Yellow Army. But normal service has been resumed and getting back on the horse doesn’t come much sweeter or more emphatic than a 4-1 victory.
Coupled with the results of those around us and it was another of those Carlsberg Saturdays.
Yet for half an hour it bore an unnerving resemblance to Wednesday night. Plenty of possession for City but no way through dogged and determined opponents who looked prepared to fight and scrap for every ball.
But step forward Jonny Howson.
“Talk about a bullet to your heart, to your soul”, was Lions’ boss Ian Holloway’s reaction to the Yorkshireman’s run and stunning strike that sent the Canaries on their way. It was a goal reminiscent of Howson’s winner at the Etihad on the final day of the 2012/13 season, only this time it meant something.
Not for the first time, a product of City’s Leeds ‘academy’ had made a decisive impact on City’s charge for promotion. If it’s not Bradders bludgeoning one in from distance and making life generally miserable for opponents, it’s Jonny grafting and probing in his fluid box-to-box style.
Sixteen goals for the season between the Leeds pair is a terrific return and if City are ultimately successful will be looked back upon as a key factor. Goals from midfield are priceless at any time but with promotion in the sights could well make the difference between automatics or play-offs.
But it’s not Howson’s goals that define him. His all-round game is in its best shape ever and makes him central to the Neil ‘structure’ with his ability to link defence with attack. At Championship level he’s a thoroughbred and is equally comfortable whether ‘putting the foot in’ or picking out a slide-rule pass.
Despite having a decent squad (I’m not going near the ‘best in the league’ until we have achieved something) there a few key individuals whose loss would still impact heavily in the run-in. John Ruddy is one, Alex Tettey is another, so too Cameron Jerome, and in the midst of them all is Howson. We missed him for three games due to that daft sending-off and noticeably benefited upon his return.
While his interviews may not set the world alight – Paul Lambert once described his as ‘the most boring man in the world’ at a player-of-the-season dinner – his actions on the pitch underpin everything that is currently good about the Canaries.
And long may it continue.
Elsewhere there was much to drool over. Graham Dorrans, after a slow start to his City career, again looked happier playing in the centre of the pitch as opposed to the left, where an unfamiliar role resulted in an awkward performance. But he now appears part of the group and was desperately unlucky not to open his City account yesterday. He’ll be an asset in the coming weeks.
Wesley too has found his best form just when we need it most. For large chunks of the season his best appeared behind him and, while the dancing feet will never depart, his ability to influence a game appeared to be waning. But in the space of a week he has produced two virtuoso performances that were notable also for a work-rate of the very highest order.
He needs to be used carefully – even sparingly on occasions – but Neil is clearly in tune with what Wes, on a good day, can bring to the party. And the Aston Villa ‘sulk’ and ensuing four-letter tirade now seem of a different era.
The bit is clearly between the teeth and his desire to return to the Promised Land undiminished. Where once there was a non-celebration, goals are now celebrated with knee slides. Good ol’ Wes.
But there remains much work to be done. Now is not the time to get carried away – again.
Yesterday was emphatic but was helped by a home crowd awaiting an opportunity to pounce on an ailing manager. We know that feeling. Yet still the job done by City was ruthless and professional.
Sterner tests await of course, starting next Saturday, but the ship is now being skillfully steered through any troubled waters as they approach. And it promises to be thrilling.
As ever A Neil impressed all and sundry again yesterday. I’m rapidly running out of superlatives to describe the impact he has had on Norwich City in just 58 days but will leave you with one thought…
Lambert – much fabled Messiah and once of this parish – is now unemployed. Yet has there been even a single suggestion that David McNally should re-engage with the ruddy-faced one?