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…