I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to mention it any more – and apologies to those it offends or bores – but so much of what occurred yesterday was Lambert-esque it is impossible to ignore. Specifically the Lambert of 2010-11 vintage.
Late winners, three up front, caution to the wind, bullish post-match interviews and a hoarse but ecstatic local BBC commentator.
It ended as one of those days that make it all worthwhile, especially for those who follow the Canaries to the four corners, although it could so easily have been one of those painful blows to the solar plexus.
Luckily, and joyously, the spirit of the run-in of 2011 has been resurrected and the belief that currently courses through the veins of Alex Neil’s squad suggests that this lot are also more than capable of giving it a ‘right good go’. It’s going to the wire – we already know that – but such is the doggedness it will take a brave person to bet against them seeing the job through.
The manager set the tone for the afternoon even before a ball had been kicked. His decision to re-jig his midfield to accommodate Nathan Redmond rather than go for the safe hands of Gary O’Neil was a brave one and immediately rendered my ‘we’ll be unlikely to see Redmond and Wes in the same midfield’ nonsense void.
No-one would have baulked at the prospect of O’Neil’s presence in the centre of the park but in Neil we have one who is prepared to live and die by the words of the song.
‘Never mind the danger’ has haunted several City managers of the past, especially those of a conservative ilk, but it’s one that could have been written for the current incumbent.
The decision with around half an hour remaining to replace Redmond and Wes, neither of whom had the joy Team Neil had hoped, with Gary Hooper and Lewis Grabban was one that could easily have backfired. With Bolton also ‘going for it’ it was a brave game of risk and reward that Alex, Frankie and Gary were playing – but one that paid off.
That line about fortune favouring the brave is one that’s often trotted out in sporting parlance but many – some recently of this parish – have discovered to their cost it’s one that’s riddled with potential pitfalls. It takes little bravery to call for undiluted, all-out attack with barely a care for the consequences, but for it to work it needs courage from those implementing it.
City struck that balance yesterday and, in fairness, have done so nigh on perfectly ever since Neil’s arrival from Hamilton.
Some managers are described as ‘lucky’. The aforementioned Lambert was one (at least he was in his time here), Terry Venables was another, even dear old ‘Arry has fallen under that umbrella at times. But all would argue that it was bold decision-making that defined their spells of good fortune. Right now I’d suggest the City boss falls in that same category.
The players have clearly bought, hook, line and sinker into the Neil way, and desire vividly seeps from every pore. While the rest of us were sweating, fidgeting and stressing over results elsewhere the players’ focus on the task in hand never wavered and neither did their faith in their ability to win the game.
They trust the manager, the manager trusts them.
That the winning goal eventually arrived courtesy of a Seb Bassong ‘hit and hope’ was a tad ironic given the good possession City had enjoyed for the majority, but few could argue with the quality of Hooper’s instinctive yet brilliant finish. Credit too for Cameron Jerome’s fine knock down.
The earlier than expected return of Grabban was another bonus to emerge from the Macron yesterday and, true to the manager’s word, his four week absence appears to have done little to blunt his match fitness. His cameo was regarded by most as an impressive one and would have been only bettered if he had taken that late chance to make it 3-1.
On an intriguing afternoon in the north-west, made more memorable for those present it seems by a stench of nature, one unenviable position was that of fourth official. With a wide-eyed, angry Ulterman chirping in one ear and a dead-eyed, snarling Scot in the other it was probably the worst seat in the house.
Whether, as alluded to by Bryan Gunn, Alex’s ear-bending added an extra minute or two to the injury time will remain an unknown but it’s clear that he sees it as his duty that the fourth official is fully appraised of his thoughts at all times.
After two-and-a-half years of being ‘nice’, we now have a presence in the technical area again. Another hat-tip to the Lambert, Culverhouse and Karsa years.
So, it’s to Elland Road we go next. In the spirit of togetherness the whole squad and staff are staying up north and you can be sure a plan will be honed over the next two days to plunder three points from our Yorkshire friends.
It will be tough of course. Such had been the dreaded banter between Leeds and Norwich of late it’s inevitable that they would love nothing more than to hinder our promotion ambitions. I expect nothing less. But if the game plan can be executed and the energy levels are high then City are more than capable of getting that much-needed win.