It has been a simply wonderful 88 days. In that time the Canaries have moved gradually and deliberately through the gears and edged from 7th place to 2nd in the Championship. No frills, no bells and whistles, and few dramas.
Bar an early wake up call against Brentford and a bad day against Wigan – when the City engine got stuck in first gear and afforded the now departed Malky a rare smile – it has been all systems go. Barely a glance backward.
Since his arrival on January 9, Alex Neil has transformed Norwich City. We were a club with Premier League players but which was divided and direction-less. Now we are united, focussed, driven and clinical.
When Neil and his oppo, Frankie McAvoy made the journey from north to south they brought with them every single one of those qualities. Almost literally in fact – Hamilton’s last win was on January 4. But the Accies loss, which given the class shown by the club upon their departures is a real shame, has most definitely been City’s gain.
David McNally’s sojourn to South Lanarkshire was derided by many at the time. “Neil who?” But the only folk smiling now are those clad in yellow and green. It was a simply inspired appointment, one that looks better with every passing win and one for which the CEO should be lauded.
Yesterday’s win was footballing equivalent of swatting away a potentially annoying fly. Give it half a chance and it could be bloody irritating so let’s give it an early swipe and hopefully it’ll go away. Wednesday were okay, they didn’t come and roll over, but minus a real incentive they were simply not good enough to lay a glove on City.
John Ruddy didn’t have a single save to make and any defensive difficulties were of City’s own making, notably when a heavy first-half touch from Martin Olsson afforded Lloyd Isgrove a sight of goal.
Two first-half strikes from Carrow Road’s new darling were always going to be enough for the win and, despite the collective sighs and tuts of the River End, the second-half was merely a case of seeing the job through while preserving one or two creaking limbs. Job done.
Bradley Johnson’s afternoon was typically eventful – and thirteen goals from midfield is Lampard-esque – but his booking was unfortunately a deserved one. Not to mention needless.
His two game suspension is disappointing of course given his contribution of late but his style of play is such I didn’t envisage him walking the tightrope successfully for six games. We’ll cope. With Nathan Redmond, Gary O’Neil and Vadis Odjidka-Ofoe champing at the bit, a few tweaks and we’ll barely notice he’s missing.
And we’re far from just the BJ show. Graham Dorrans again reminded us just why the manager was so keen to bring him into the fray, and continues to improve game by game. Hopefully the whispers of a few who questioned if we should try and sign him permanently have now subsided. He looks made for that yellow shirt.
The quality he brings to the side has been the perfect fillip at the perfect time and his ability to slot in alongside, or rotate with, Alex Tettey has added another dimension. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season I suggest Neil’s first job of the summer will be to get the Scot to sign a contract.
Elsewhere there was much to admire and Wes was clearly relieved to have rid himself of the shackles of the Amex. The dancing feet were dancing again and when that happens the magic usually flows. He’s one of several who has hit a rich vein of form at the best possible time.
So, Bolton up next. Hopefully Colney will be kind to one or two this week and allow a few lumps, bumps and twists picked up over the most successful of Easter weekends to heal.
As ever there is always a #NCFC tweeter out there who can sum it all up, in less than 140 characters, far more eloquently than I can in 800 words. Yesterday it was the turn of Steve Cook (aka @StevoCook):
“You know when athletes sit on the shoulders of the leading pack round the bend then kick-on in the final straight?
That. Basically. #ncfc“