Upon the arrival of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe most of us headed to YouTube. Only the few with a penchant for the Belgian Pro League knew what we were getting but the rest of us had our appetite whetted at the sight of an attacking midfield powerhouse who had goals in his armoury.
On paper the transition from Belgian top tier to English second tier looked a fairly straightforward one but for reasons clear only to those in the inner-sanctum of Colney it was a slow burner. And then when he did find his way into the starting XI it ended in injury at Hillsborough – one of the the long-term variety.
Once fit again, the odd promising cameo was followed by a successful loan-spell at Rotherham but since then it has been a case of doing his best to catch the manager’s eye in training and in the odd game for the Under-21s.
Against Southampton his window of opportunity was upped from seven or eight minutes to nearly half an hour. And what followed was a model example of how to take your chance when offered it.
Part of the Vadis conundrum – as explained by Alex Neil post-match – is that he’s at his best when utilised as an attacking midfielder, the very position that Wes has made his own. But with Nathan Redmond not enjoying his best day in yellow and green a bit of jiggery-pokery meant that yesterday the Belgian could be unleashed where he is most effective.
And it must have worked even better than Alex had imagined it.
Even prior to his contribution to the goal (more on that later) he had changed the dynamic of the game. Instead of having to deal with Jonny Howson looking to get beyond Diemerci Mbokani or Wes using his trickery to unpick a lock or two, suddenly Messrs Van (it could have been you) Dijk, Fonte and co were tasked with dealing with one prepared to run at them.
They didn’t like it. Nor did they cope with it.
The piece of trickery that led to the goal – one he had replicated a couple of minutes earlier – was a perfect hybrid of power and technique and it was fitting that Alex Tettey should end the move with such a clean, crisp left-foot strike; the very antithesis of his much derided toe-punt at Old Trafford.
It matters not how they find the back of the net – just as long as they do. That yesterday’s was aesthetically pleasing was a bonus.
Aside from the performance of Vadis and the continuing goal-scoring exploits of Tettey – who clearly has the edge on Youssouf Mulumbu in the battle for the midfield ‘holder’ – there was still much to admire and even as recently as a month ago two consecutive clean sheets was the stuff of dreams.
The back-four is [whisper it quietly] functioning as a unit and despite being given a rough ride by Shane Long in the first-half, they rose to the challenge well in the second and barely gave him a sniff.
Seb Bassong, so often the architect of his own downfall by being over-confident in possession, stuck to the basics yesterday and rarely took more than two or three touches to keep the ball moving. And looked a better player for it. Next to him, Ryan Bennett has hit a rich vein of form and now looks at home in his Premier League surroundings.
Reinforcements are clearly still required – if Bassong and/or Bennett were to get injured there is little by way of cover – but now the decision for the gaffer is who to drop rather than who to leave in.
Robbie Brady’s reversion to left-back is an interesting one. Martin Olsson appears to have done little wrong but there is no doubting that the Irishman adds a different dimension by being equally comfortable in the attacking and defensive thirds. It also sets the scene nicely for the soon-to-be-fit Matt Jarvis to take up the wide-left berth.
And it would be remiss not to mention Gary O’Neil, who is no longer a the bit-part player of last season. His contribution is not eye-catching, nor is it spectacular, but he puts his foot in when it’s needed, he organises and he passes to those in yellow and green. Alex rightly sees him as a steady pair of hands, trusts him and it’s no coincidence that many of the good days are with him in the side.
Victory was sweet, especially given the painful afternoon we endured at St Mary’s back in August, and there was a certain symmetry in Saints ending the game with ten men just as City did, with Steven Whittaker seeing red for a professional foul.
That Sadio Mane decided to go AWOL from a team meeting and was subsequently benched also played into City’s hands given how instrumental he and fellow winger, Dušan Tadić, were in the aforementioned earlier 3-0 win. His late introduction yesterday had little impact on the game and the latter was only a peripheral figure throughout.
So, a good Christmas for City and it’s not often we have been able to say that. Nine points from a possible 12 and unbeaten in five at home; things are looking a whole lot rosier than they did just five games ago when that 1-1 draw with Everton saw us drop into the bottom three.
Let’s not shout it too loudly – remember the need for “equilibrium” – but 17 points from 18 games for the mystical 40 looks a whole lot more achievable now.
“Never mind the danger…”