So, hands up who wouldn’t have taken three points from the top with nine to play.
Given the starting point offered Alex Neil when he lowered himself into the hot-seat in early January I suspect even the manager would have scoffed at such a suggestion, but here we are. Not in pole position but nicely nestled in the slip-stream of the leaders and set fair for a thrilling finish.
To keep with the F1 theme (nice one Lewis) I would suggest City are entering the final few laps with a fresh set of tyres, an optimum fuel load, a reliable engine and a driver who is as fresh as a daisy. In short, we’re in fine fettle – even if yesterday was a case of two points dropped.
Post-match, Steve McLaren knew full well his boys had got away with one. Last week he bemoaned Lady Luck’s role in two points squirming away in the closing seconds, this week he admitted it was payback.
Neil, by contrast, was at his bullish best in the after-match interviews – belligerent even. And, as ever, there was to be no blame apportionment. Instead a metaphorical arm was wrapped around John Ruddy, whose error will have swilled horribly around the mind last night.
The Big Man, by his very nature, will be hurting right now but equally will be determined to right the wrong for manager, team-mates and supporters sooner rather than later. And he will.
My money’s already on a clean sheet at the John Smith’s Stadium.
But elsewhere, that single individual error aside, there was not an awful lot wrong. Yes City, after controlling the opening half hour superbly, did lose their composure a little in the middle thirty minutes but against a side that began the day in second place that’s par for the course.
For all their injury woes the Rams remain on the cusp of the automatic places for a reason. They are clearly a decent side and to have restricted them to a Tom Ince ‘bobbler’ and an in-swinging corner over the course of 96 minutes speaks volumes. But, in the words of the manager, “sometimes in football you don’t get what you deserved and today in our case that sums it up”.
In truth – despite the best efforts of a couple of ‘canarycallers’ – there was precious little for the moaners to get their teeth into, and if Cameron Jerome had been able to get over instead of under Steven Whittaker’s tremendous late cross we would now be hailing the new Simeon Jackson.
Throw into the mix that gilt edged early chance that Jerome toe poked past Lee Grant’s right-hand post and a Jackson-esque hat-trick was not too far away – and would have been just reward for a tireless afternoon’s work.
The role of lone striker in Neil’s preferred 4-1-4-1 is a thankless one and, coupled with the manager’s desire to press the opposition high up then pitch, requires an insatiable work-rate. Jerome fulfilled the role well yesterday but noticeably benefited with the late addition of Gary Hooper – whose natural striking tendencies take him further up the pitch than when Wes is in the same role.
Pink Un blogger, Daniel Brigham wrote a fine piece upon the news of Lewis Grabban’s ankle injury and made an excellent comparison between the way that he and Jerome fulfil the one-up-top role. Both can do it to good effect – the stats tell us that much – but at Carrow Road, when opposition invariably look to frustrate, Grabban’s more fluid style dovetails perfectly with the need to create space.
Having said that, it’s not an option that’s currently on the table and no-one can quibble with Jerome’s contribution of 17 goals and counting. In particular, his willingness to run the channels comes into its own when playing away from home when there is more onus on City’s opponents to attack and will hopefully reveal itself again on Tuesday night.
Among several other good performances, two-thirds of the Scottish contingent continued to see their stock rise. Whittaker, a couple of first-half aberrations aside, offered another all-action performance down the right side and his never-say-die attitude was typified by his desire to turn a lost cause into almost a match-winning cross.
Graham Dorrans too is clearly settling into his new surroundings and looks a different player to the one asked to play on the left side a few weeks ago. At his best in a central berth, the Scottish international’s quality on the ball fits nicely in with his manager’s desire to keep the ball and move it at pace.
Against a midfield that is regarded as the Championship’s finest, City bossed it yesterday and still had Nathan Redmond and Gary O’Neil on the bench, and Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe waiting in the wings.
Who knows if we will look back on Ruddy’s handling error as ultimately costly but with nine games left there is ample time to make amends, and more points will be dropped between now and the end of the season.
Actually, I recommend we all take a leaf out of the manager’s book. To paraphrase: ‘Play like that for the rest of the season and we’ll be going up’.
And who are we to argue. That chequered flag remains ours for the taking.