Blimey… who saw that one coming?
Days like today are a rarity. Days like this one specifically haven’t been seen 30 August 1989, back when Gary Pallister, on debut, made himself an early target for the Old Trafford boo boys and the other Sir Alex was trying the patience of the Stretford End. Back when Thatcher was prime minister, beer was £1 a pint and Boris Gardiner (no, me neither) was number one with I Want To Wake Up With You.
Therefore make a note: ’19 December 2015 – Norwich City WIN at Old Trafford’. And breathe it in. Soak up every last, lingering memory of a special afternoon.
Surprisingly, to me at least, there were a few tweets doing the rounds this morning from folk who ‘had a good feeling’ about today, including one Darren Eadie.
Confession time: I scoffed.
For me it had all the makings of another ‘along came Norwich’ afternoon. United and LVG were desperate for a win, Wayne Rooney was back from injury and looking to mark his 500th game for the club with a goal, and each of our last three visits to Old Trafford had ended in 4-0 defeats.
Predictably, and understandably, every single pundit predicted a home win. None expected City to score a goal.
But my cynicism was unfounded. Alex and Frankie had other ideas. And a plan.
As it transpired, the plan was not dissimilar to those deployed at the Etihad and the Bridge but this time round the players finally cottoned on to the need to carry a genuine threat on the break. But still it hinged on solidity across the back four and midfield, with no big swathes of grass being left unoccupied, especially when they contained a Martial, a Mata, a Depay or a Rooney.
It required an approach that was obstinate, stubborn, well-organised and brave. And they delivered.
City were able to tap into the nervousness of the Theatre of Dreams and as the minutes ticked by without an opening goal so the disquiet gathered momentum. The Y’Army too made hay, with loud reminders to the United owners of a Portuguese manager who is currently unemployed. This merely added to the discord.
And then the twist.
City broke with purpose. Nathan Redmond toe-poked one into the path of Cameron Jerome. The rest is history.
With their noses ahead the faith of the City faithful was reignited. Alex never stopped believing but for some the belief had wavered.
Following our draw with Everton we observed, quite painfully, a Bournemouth win over LVG’s men. Watford too were pulling up trees. But we hadn’t joined the party. Amidst a topsy-turvy season with odd results the norm, City had done nothing of the unexpected. Our trajectory was southward and there was little sign of it being arrested.
But with one swoosh of Big Cam’s right foot the mindset changed. On the pitch, in the dugout and in that corner of Old Trafford that was, for a few hours, Norwich.
For the tourists, the Theatre of Dreams became the Theatre of Nightmares. LVG fidgeted in his seat. Giggsy offered only a thousand-yard stare.
The second-half was more of the same with United, not unsurprisingly, having the bulk of possession, but without ever seriously threatening Declan Rudd. Only when Chris Smalling nodded wide of Rudd’s left-hand post in injury time did they see the whites of his eyes.
Before then, City’s ‘number 13′ saved brilliantly from Juan Mata’s free-kick; in doing so prolonging – even solidifying – his tenure as the Canaries’ first-choice keeper.
But it was Alex Tettey’s 54th minute strike that proved the afternoon’s pivotal moment. Again Jerome was involved, this time seizing on to the Norwegian’s interception on half-way, and playing a perfectly weighted return pass.
Tettey’s finish was a tad ungainly but still fizzed past a bemused De Gea and United were faced with the ignominy of an uphill task against ‘little Norwich’. The embarrassment.
And from thereon in it was a case of keeping it tight, keeping the individual errors down to zero and not permit United and the Old Trafford crowd anything to seize upon.
Alas the pressure finally told and with Martin Olsson, for once, allowing a cross to loop in from the United right, Ryan Bennett and Robbie Brady permitted Martial room to squirm clear and fire home from close range.
The Alamo continued and, for a few fleeting moments, the Old Trafford crowd stirred from its slumber but this was City’s day. The day they finally arrived at the party .
Grumbles and sighs turned to boos upon the final blast of Michael Oliver’s whistle and for 73,000 the mood was ugly. The aforementioned corner that was for a few hours Norwich celebrated like it was 1989. And it was brilliant.
Of course, there are greater challenges ahead and, to put it into context, today was only City’s fourth win of the season – and this iteration is not the United of Sir Alex of Ferguson – but it was a result that has re-instilled the desire, even if some surgery is still needed in the January window. And has rekindled belief that the 2016/17 season can spent at the top table.
Let’s enjoy the moment. Today was a bloody good one.
“On the Ball City…”