At the risk of being a party pooper, just as one footballing swallow does not make a summer – Newcastle and their 6-2 thumping of us on October 18th proves that.
Equally a long awaited back-to-back win sequence does not guarantee a relegation-free second half of the season.
If only it did.
We would be able to settle back, unclench those match day fists and look forward untroubled through winter and spring to a happy summer – at least until England stumble back from France with heads low and ready-made excuses.
We all know that supporting a football club is rarely that simple (unless yours is Bayern Munich or Barcelona).
However, add in three wins in four, clean sheets with a far more solid looking defence and some cracking goals from open play, and suddenly the whole mood amongst the yellow and green army has undergone a major shift of late.
That new found confidence on and off the pitch will soon be severely tested once more in FA Cup and league, the latter being the proverbial wet and windy Wednesday litmus test of attitude and application in Stoke-on-Trent.
Just as Leicester showed, the Premier League season is a marathon and not a sprint with time and chances to recover from knock backs and confidence-sapping early season struggles.
I’d like to offer that crumb of comfort to Aston Villa fans out there but sadly, some causes are hopeless.
With a manager unused to this level, we were always likely to face adversity while the ropes were being learned and so it’s proved to be with bad defeats leading to a change in Alex Neil’s approach to team selection, formation and style of play.
Whatever your view on events so far, it’s undeniable that the boss has proven himself adaptable, flexible and cool under pressure – qualities sadly lacking in some of the online opinions offered up after things haven’t gone our way.
There have been many a cheap accusation made in the heat of defeat that the current squad is weak and not good enough to avoid a return to the Championship.
Recent results have made a mockery of such claims with a number of previously bit-part players making crucial contributions to the upturn in fortunes and gradual progress up the table.
Of course there is some chaff among the wheat as with every club in the land but one of Alex Neil’s most impressive skills is seemingly in keeping everyone on board and minimising personal unrest.
I’m not in the Kyle Lafferty fan club but do admire him for (mostly) keeping his head down and not stirring the pot in the face of his exclusion from first-team action. Good luck to him if and when he moves on shortly.
Neil has made some bold selections which no-one had seen coming. The resurrection of Lewis Grabban was not on anyone else’s radar albeit a brief two game respite for the bolshie striker.
The shuffle of keeper and back-four seems to have hit upon a stable and reliable unit, able to fend off some of the league’s trickiest of customers – Harry Kane being the exception.
Back to that Newcastle humbling – for me the pivotal event of our season in many ways. A lesser man than Alex Neil may have been crushed by the experience, especially as his bold second-half substitution was the trigger for McClaren’s foreign legion to make hay.
Oh how our enemies over the East Anglian border laughed and mocked at our expense. Plus ça change as they would say in the Geordies changing room.
A 1-0 win at the MK Dons in the Championship is clearly a far greater achievement than taking a point off an “injury ravaged” Arsenal or winning at a “struggling” Man. Utd!
Since that day back in October, steady progress has been made with 14 points gained – three more than Newcastle, the same as Everton who the media have raved about and only one less than West Ham who have been deemed to have had a cracking season thus far.
Good times are all about momentum and confidence and slowly but surely, those elusive and fickle characteristics are taking root at Carrow Road in 2016.
With transfer fever also upon us for the next month or so, it’s exciting times although I suspect many fans will be disappointed by the level of activity at NR1.
I’d be amazed – and worried – if silly money (£10 million+) was paid out for an unproven foreign ‘talent’ or promising lower league bright young thing.
My guess is Naismith plus one or two others whose first-team opportunities and Premier pedigree will need time to establish.
The club has come a long way in the last 12 months. That progress has come about from a process of gradual evolution rather than a seismic revolution as some insisted was necessary.
With calm heads at the top, 2016 promises to be even better.
Stewart Lewis says
Great summary of events so far and the potential future.
Saw an interesting analysis of January transfers and their success/failure. It seems the keys to success, if you want your new player to make an immediate impact, are:
1. Buy experienced rather than young
2. Buy from the Premier League or other major leagues rather than lesser ones
3. Do your homework rather than buy on impulse.
Naismith, at least, seems to fit the criteria pretty well.
Ben K says
You make some interesting points, Russell. I’d quite like to see a compilation of MotD pundits’ evaluations of the Norwich situation from week to week, just for a laugh. Shearer’s the funniest. After the Villa match it was, ‘They’ve got 20 points at the half-way mark and they’ll be happy with that. They’re looking good. They’ll be fine.’ (so, research for him would appear to be a quick look at the table) After the Watford defeat we were supposedly a complete shower with no idea.
The good thing concerning the transfer window is that it now looks like we only need players to come in for cover, but we do need them. Naismith is a good player if we can get him; I just hope we play him to his strengths rather than expect him to do everything if/when he arrives. Mbokani is looking better than when he arrived so we can at least hope that the goal scoring problem is closer to being solved and that Naismith can play off him.
Russell S. says
Stew – seems like a sensible checklist. Our chief scout (ex-Burnley) has come in for some largely undeserved flak for the perceived lack of action in the summer but knowing Alex (as I don’t), he’ll have identified sensible targets for reasonable prices long ago. I’m all for proven PL experience over an exotic foreign name from overseas.
Ben – you have to feel for Shearer as a Newcastle man through and through and the pain that brings. For all their highly paid expertise though, pundit opinions are instant reactions which change with the footballing tides. We’ve gone under the radar so far and I hope that continues. Despite their on- pitch ‘altercation’ in Alex’s playing days, Naismith would be a good fit for us and seems keen to make it happen.
colin m says
Other than cover required at centre back I really like our squad now. With Matt Jarvis due to return and Vadis looking so good reckon we don’t need to bring in too many. Lafferty has been very loyal and should be allowed to play elsewhere, Benno,Whits, Graban, Hooper could go with our blessings and thanks. Murphy twins back for next season plus Toffolo. Wes may struggle to keep a regular spot but we can get behind him & Robbie B at the Euros which will be great.
Finally if we could choose any manager out there to guide us to a top 17 finish I’d go for AN. The man’s a bloody genius and has great humility. We have the best club to support bar none.