The matrix used by the Norwich board to identify Alex Neil as the man they wanted used the vogue term “game management”.
Iain Dowie coined “bouncebackability”. And (thank you Google) it was the motivational expert Zig Ziglar who is credited with the axiom: “It’s not how far you fall but how high you bounce that counts.”
However you describe Neil’s ability to respond to setbacks, it is a significant talent. And it has convinced me of something.
If Norwich City find themselves in the play-offs, they will reach the final.
Over the two games of a semi-final, Neil’s nous will beat any of the possible opponents.
The prematurely serious young Scot is not infallible. Drawing at Huddersfield was proof of that.
But the spot-on reaction against Nottingham Forest at Carrow Road bore the mark of a manager who is big enough to acknowledge his own errors and sufficiently sagacious to correct them.
The 4-4-2 at Huddersfield, with Nathan Redmond in the midfield four and both Gary Hooper and Cameron Jerome selected, smacked of the Neil Adams era. It was a team picked to attack, attack, attack.
Perhaps Neil believed Huddersfield could be swept aside. Perhaps he felt the need to give Hooper and Redmond outings.
If Hooper had nudged in a chance from inches out, instead of producing an inexplicable shuffle and miss, City would probably have romped home. But, throughout, they looked vulnerable to the home side’s counter-attacks and neither Huddersfield goal was much of a surprise.
Neil’s retort was Lambert-eque. He threw on three more attacking players, withdrew only one (the vastly disappointing Hooper) and eventually earned a draw.
But it is one thing to chuck caution to the wind in the final quarter of a game. It is another to have that as an initial game plan. For me, that was the problem with the teams and tactics of Neil Adams.
The nadir of Adams’ reign was the defeat at Forest back in November, when the unrestrained desire to go forward led to a destructive lack of discipline.
So, for the return fixture against Forest, it was particularly pleasing to see a much more temperate template than at Huddersfield. It was 4-4-1-1, with four “proper” midfielders rather than with wingers.
The central two of the midfield four, Alex Tettey and Graham Dorrans, took turns to hold back – and for the last ten minutes, after Forest had reduced the deficit, Tettey stayed back, sweeping in front of the back four.
It’s a peculiar truth, I believe, that this Norwich team score more goals when there is an austere cautiousness about their system and personnel than when they are gung-ho.
It is certainly true that Neil is willing to change his men and alter how they are deployed. In Scotland he preferred 4-1-4-1. With Norwich, he has had success with 4-2-3-1, the much-loved diamond (4-1-2-1-2) and several variants of the 4-4-1-1 he went with against Forest.
Whether he opts for a narrow midfield or not, the fullbacks are expected to double up as wide attackers (which is another reason I like to see at least one central midfielder holding back).
And one of the fullbacks deserves tremendous credit of a personal renaissance. Stephen Whittaker had to find remarkable resilience after volunteering to play centre-mid against Brentford and getting a hammering from our fans. The unwavering backing of his manager helped, but it still took a core of Scots granite to keep his poise and belief and to play so well in recent games.
For that, he is almost my Player of the Season. But my vote, at the moment, is heading towards Bradley Johnson.
I’ve always been a Johnson fan, and prefer in the holding two of 4-2-3-1 rather than a role on the left, but I now know for certain that he was wanted by at least two Premier League teams in the summer and there were more sniffing around in January – so to see him staying and stuffing that irresistible shot down Suffolk throats makes him my likely POTS.
Mrs Dennis will doubtless vote for Wessi.
He has caused me more rows with my wife over the years more than anything other than the time I got professional house cleaners in and pretended I’d scrubbed the place myself.
Wesley Hoolahan can do no wrong in her eyes, and whenever we’ve lost, under whatever manager, according to Mrs Dennis it was because either we didn’t start with Wes, didn’t use him properly, didn’t get him on early enough or generally didn’t worship at his size seven feet.
I, on the other hand, think he is a flawed genius. I know he can thread the ball through packed defences, but he can also donate it to opponents in our half. I acknowledge he is capable of unpicking locks while others hammer away at the door, but he is also more one-footed than another Norfolk hero: Lord Nelson.
The Dennises are united about one thing, however: Wes needs to be used centrally and needs to get into the opposition area, where they daren’t touch him.
And, against Forest he was so unplayable that it was worth the 130-mile trip home listening to a prolonged explanation of how Mrs Dennis was, as ever, entirely right.
Incidentally, she thinks we can still go up automatically. So do I.
But if not, then see you at Wembley.