The sight of an adrenalin pumped Bradley Johnson turning to celebrate with a 3,200 strong Yellow Army, following the sweetest of left foot strikes, could yet be the abiding image of a triumphant return to the land of milk and honey.
There is of course still plenty of scope and time for things to go southward – and we are Norwich City after all – but given the nature of yesterday’s win, not to mention results elsewhere, the Neil-inspired juggernaut looks unstoppable right now.
To ‘win ugly’ is a cliché so well-worn it slips off the tongue as easily as ‘at the end of the day’, but the Canaries took it to a whole new level at the Amex. It was a win born of grit, sweat, determination, bottle and, when it mattered most, the briefest glimpse of Premier League quality.
Nathan Redmond’s electric burst down the touchline and jink down the by-line was rounded off perfectly with an intelligent cut-back, and Bradders trusty left boot did the rest. That was it. Game over.
Much of what had gone before was barely worthy of comment but it matters not one iota.
In truth if Sebastien Bassong’s over-hit square pass in the first-half had ended in a goal for the Seagulls this piece may have had a rather different tone, but it didn’t. Thanks to some desperate, last ditch, blocks and slides from his team-mates he got away with it, and in the process was probably saved from a weekend audience with Alex and Mad Frankie.
In the same way that substance triumphs over style as the season nears its climax, so too does the need to forensically dissect every performance. The manager, as ever, wrapped it up in a nutshell: “We’re going to have to win ugly [there we go again] and do whatever it takes to go home with the points.”
And it’s no coincidence that with the season’s finale approaching and the need for heart and desire to be the over-riding footballing emotions, one name continually comes to the fore.
Bradley Johnson’s unstoppable march to the Carrow Road centre circle to lay hands on the Barry Butler Memorial Trophy continues apace, and yesterday’s winner was his eleventh goal of the season. An impressive stat in anyone’s book but allied with the impact his insatiable energy and work-rate bring to the City party, his contribution has been little short of phenomenal.
For me it’s confession time. I have been ultra-critical in the past of Johnson’s tendency to give the ball away too cheaply while resembling a rooster with no head and so, as a result, I’ve spent much of this season eating humble pie. Those who sit around me in the River End are not slow to remind me.
With Alex Tettey and, latterly, Graham Dorrans having made the central, holding positions their own, Johno has now adapted beautifully to a role that suits him. With a sledgehammer of a left foot but a right one that’s seldom used, his role on the left side allows him the freedom to ‘join in’ and use his boundless energy to get up and down the pitch. It also permits him an extra milli-second of time on the ball, which has in turn help us keep the ball that little bit better.
I personally think his time in the centre of the pitch is done (I know others disagree) with the left side now his home. With Neil preferring a narrow midfield, except on the occasions when Redmond is unleashed, he naturally tucks in and permits Martin Olsson the space to overlap – one of the Swede’s great strengths.
It’s a system that works and Johnson also offers good protection to Olsson when faced with an out-and-out wideman – Tom Ince being the most obvious recent example. And long may it continue.
But the feelgood factor and momentum aside, there remains a job to be done. Sheffield Wednesday have quietly enjoyed a more than decent season and represent dangerous opponents on Monday. Whether City enjoying an extra 24 hours rest (Wednesday play Huddersfield in a Yorkshire derby this afternoon) will play a part is as yet an unknown, but it will be typically nervy and edgy.
Some perceive Wednesday’s mid-table safety as having edged them ever closer to the beach, but for others it has permitted them the freedom to express. Either way, you can bet your life that Master Neil will be warning his players of the latter.
One other random musing from yesterday, and which in my eyes is no bad thing, is just how far under the media radar City’s promotion push appears to be. As a devotee of talkSPORT I was more than a little surprised that yesterday morning our clash with Brighton was only worthy of a mention due to it being a reunion with Chris Hughton. Barely a mention of our proximity to the top of the table.
But it’s another thing that matters not one jot. Middlesbrough, Bournemouth and Watford are welcome to the spotlight and the plaudits. As one tweeter commented yesterday: it’s better to squeeze into the top two minus a fuss than to just miss out in the glare of the flashbulbs.
Am I alone in growing a little tired of dear old Mick McCarthy’s ‘poor’ Ipswich mantra? Marcus Evans’ reluctance to dip his hand into his own coffers has clearly irked the blunt one, and City’s parachute payments have twice provoked comment, but now he has the big spenders of Bournemouth in his sights. Quote: “They put on a very expensive acquisition (in Jones) and maybe he has started to pay some of that back with that goal.”
Never mind the danger…
Brill Stepshort says
You are not alone in having ‘dissed’ Johnson in the past. (I’m currently eating humble pie re: Whittaker!). I totally agree about us falling under the radar as far as the press are concerned. Again, barely a mention on the Football League Show last night, but we don’t need any hype – far better to look after our own results and sneak into the top two when nobody’s looking! OTBC
Jim Davies says
Yes, one pundit on the Football League Show tips Middlesborough and us for the automatic spots, while the presenter moves on with a brief comment that “Norwich are going very well” and that’s it. Maybe it’s because they don’t think we belong in the Championship and should be on MOTD instead!
And yes, BJ looks nailed on for POTS.
Gary Field says
More than happy to be “under the radar” and I don’t really care if we stay that way until the 2nd May, as long as we get across that line.
Yesterday was all about winning and it really doesn’t matter if it wasn’t the greatest of performances.
I’ve spent most of the last three seasons wondering how Jonno gets in the team and finally I get it. Good on him. What a player he is right now.
Alex G says
The frustration previously with Bradley was all the wayward passes. This season he has been hitting the net so often its almost hard to believe he ever misplaced all those passes! Deffo picking up the Barry butler.
@ Jim – not disagreeing, just adding, remember we were last up on MOTD all season last year because nice guy Chris had us set up to play so boringly. Fair do’s. Yet this year we should be every week extended highlights on the FLS but someone at the beeb in charge of these things is very clearly fast asleep. Check our goal difference plus pundits and other managers best squad, best team at ncfc vs TV time?!?!
Colin mason says
BJ,JR,SW,RM,MO,SB,AT,JH,CJ well that’s nine starters every week with WH,NR,GH,GD to slot in as suits plus a really strong looking back up,yes without doubt best all round squad for years. BJ looks like he’d ‘die’ for the cause and will richly deserve BBMT award.Togetherness is everything at this stage and BJ is the epitome of a team player.Promotion surely awaits???
Only problem I have is the reoccurring dream/nightmare of play off final v I*****h, I’m waking up in a hot sweat and panic before the end,(never got over Cardiff 2002). OTBC
Neil N. Pray says
I think the fact Hughton was able to attract a talent like Redders to Norwich, having worked with him before, says a lot about his character. We’re still benefiting from him being a ‘nice guy’. IF IF IF we go up I can imagine Redmond getting a lot more game time. He could be a huge talent. Lovely stop-start to shake off Joe Bennett.
Personally I couldn’t give a monkey’s if City get credit in the media. If TalkSport still think it’s OK to employ professional troll Andy Durham I have zero respect for their judgement anyway (although I quite like Colin Murray’s show).
Bradders struggled a bit last year, but I always felt he was a good championship player. Not THAT good though! What a midfield we have. Hope we can keep Dorrens, whatever league we’re in next season.
I guess I must be alone in thinking that it’s refreshing that someone is willing to call out Bournemouth for all the money they’ve spent?
The media loves the “Little Bournemouth” the underdog narrative, but financially they have thrown a lot of money at it, possibly Norwich are the only team currently in the top 6 who’ve spent more than them in the last 12 months. They were even willing to spend £5m on Demarai Gray(!!) before Birmingham told them to jog on.
It’s a great story for Bournemouth fans, no doubt, having never made it the top flight before. But let’s not kid ourselves, in the Championship as well as in the Prem, money counts.
Gary Gowers says
Canarychibba (8) – No, you’re not alone. Agree with almost every word but MM’s bitterness at raising the have/have-nots of the Championship at almost every turn is a getting a little tiring – for me at least
Jim Davies says
Gary, to be fair to MM, he was left with the short end of the stick once Marcus Evans decided he wasn’t going to have an easy ride to the riches of the Premiership. MM wasn’t around when we had to endure all the fiver-waving that went on after ME bought them, so he probably can’t understand why we find their current impoverished status so funny.
I predict that in the (unlikely) event they do get promoted, ME will realise his assets as quickly as possible, and sell them as soon as he can.
Ref ME and itfc, I had an interesting chat with a bloke who works in his events empire and the word is that he is looking to offload them if they don’t get prom’d this year. He’s not emotionally engaged, unlike our St. Delia, and was only ever in it as an investment and an advertising platform. He has been amazed by what MM has achieved this season, as a mid -table finish with a black balance sheet was the target. Hence the lack of investment until the recent transfer window, when he decided to have a little punt.