“Football… Bloody hell!”
It’s not often I feel the need to quote Sir Alex but I can’t better that sentiment right now.
First of all, hats off to the 2,125 who made the trip to Leeds last night. Their noise – helped by the proximity to Chris Goreham’s commentary box – was truly uplifting to those of us listening 150 miles away, so one can only imagine the impact it had on the players. And it was a fitting reward that both City goals were scored within celebration distance.
As for the game itself, well, we’ve long established that we’re now in the realms of points rather than performances so it’s only fair we forgive the players a first-half that sounded more Middlesbrough (a) than Forest (h).
Luckily Alex Neil and his men were able to retain their sense of calm rather better than most of us watching and listening, and – galvanised no doubt by some unequivocal Scottish tones at half-time – they ensured that class finally came to the fore with those two second-half goals.
Graham Dorrans in particular will have been relieved to see that late chance hit the net after having endured what sounded a fairly miserable first forty-five. In addition to the missed penalty and a glaring miss shortly after, his habit of finding yellow shirts with his normally exquisite passing also deserted him. And he wasn’t alone.
The fare sounded fairly dire but beneath it all the faith remained. Even minus the usual zip there was still an inner belief that there was enough in the tank to see it through. And so it proved.
That Neil ‘got into them’ at the interval is not in doubt, but still the words had to be put into action and backed up by the aforementioned belief they, from somewhere, found the edge that had been missing from 7:45 to 8:30.
For those of us at the mercy of BBC Radio Norfolk, the Goreham tones told the story perfectly. Before the break it sounded as if it was to be one of those nights: stray passes, spurned gift horses, needless fouls and furrowed brows.
But almost within a minute of the restart it became clear that everything was going to be OK. The tempo was upped, there was a purpose and, finally, a goal threat.
Naturally the second-half was accompanied by sweaty palms, chewed nails and palpitations (would you believe me if I said I had a Fellaini-type afro back in August?) but from the word go it appeared City had rediscovered the groove that has served them so well on the road since January.
They even managed to stay true to the script. Jonny Howson’s superb finish and classy (and understandable) non-celebration was a fitting way to mark his return to Elland Road, and to have earned applause from the Leeds faithful upon scoring spoke volumes of the regard in which he’s held up there.
As ever, there was to be no easy ride for City and it still took a fine save by John Ruddy – who had enjoyed a relatively comfortable night up until the 84th minute – to see the job through; his save from Alex Mowatt’s defelected effort right up there with Gary Hooper’s last gasp winner at Bolton in terms of its importance.
Dorrans’ late strike was the coup de grâce on a spirited Leeds performance and the clincher for City but, with goal difference so crucial at this late stage, it could just end up being decisive. Either way, it permitted a joyful Yellow Army three minutes of undiluted and stress-free celebration, something of a rarity of late.
Neil was typically bullish post-match – just how we like him – and commented, quite rightly, that he and the players will work on the assumption that those around us will win every game. But, in truth, I didn’t expect them to!
Right now those in the top four appear to be matching one another blow for blow and, given how things appear to be panning out, we should expect few favours from Nottingham Forest tonight. The Championship form table makes compelling – not to mention telling – reading and does little to ease already fraying nerves.
But, in little over 48 hours we must all prepare ourselves to go again. Middlesbrough appear to have overcome their blip (at least at the Riverside) and will be just itching to replicate their form of November, when they gave City a footballing lesson.
This time round however they’ll come face to face with a different Norwich – not one that is going to take a backward step or be bullied and intimidated by the swagger of Banford, Tomlin and Vossen.
Alex has requested we get the place ‘rocking’. I’d say that’s the least we can do.
“Never mind the danger…”