“It’s not the despair. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”
No, not John Cleese in Clockwise… Mark in N&P block RL. And he was right.
Just when the coping mechanism for many was to assume the worst of City’s pending fate (anything else being a bonus) they go and dangle us another carrot and give us a tantalising glimpse of what may just, fingers crossed, wind in the right direction, gods smiling, be possible.
Good days have been few and far between in 2016 but this was one. And it could have been a great day, but for Graham Dorrans’ sliced shot opting not to nestle in the corner of Joe Hart’s net.
Yet the roar that greeted the final blast of Jon Moss’s whistle told the story, which was that Carrow Road had witnessed 93 minutes of guts (no blood this time), heart and fight, and all underpinned by a team selection and tactical set-up that looked, to me, just about right.
For once the heroes outnumbered the villains.
Sky Sports and the game’s official sponsors were split in deciding the day’s man of the match with Gary O’Neil and Timm Klose getting the respective nods, and both were heroic in thwarting the threat of a Man City team that still have – or at least had – an outside chance of the title.
There were others too – plenty of them – and Jonny Howson’s form over the last couple of months shows no sign of abating, while Ryan Bennett’s partnership with Klose, on yesterday’s evidence, looks every inch the best permutation available to Alex Neil right now.
But it wasn’t about individuals – it rarely is with the Canaries – it was about the team working as a cohesive unit with each individual in that unit knowing and implementing his role to the letter. And it was about eliminating the stupid errors that offer the opposition chances on a plate.
All of those boxes were ticked yesterday and, while being given one of the severest tests possible, they emerged unscathed on an afternoon when, with the two North East ‘giants’ not playing it felt imperative that we earned at least a point.
Whether it will ultimately prove just a consolation will only be revealed in the fullness of time but no-one departed Carrow Road yesterday afternoon feeling short-changed. And after the gut-wrenching disappointment of the Liberty that was important.
If we ultimately come up short because we’re not quite good enough then so be it but if we are to go then let’s do so kicking and screaming. And yesterday they kicked, screamed, scrapped, harried and gave Messrs Aguero, Silva and co not a second to breathe in the final third. Just how Alex, Frankie and Gary had planned it.
The shape too, for the most part at least, was retained just as it appeared on the whiteboards of Colney and on the odd occasion the defences were breached there was always a last ditch challenge or lunge to frustrate Sheikh Mansour’s finest.
And John Ruddy’s fine save from Aguerro mid-way through the first half was evidence that the more agile, leaner version is back and back to something like his best. His enforced rest and the serious challenge from Declan Rudd that ensued appears to have done the trick.
Patrick Bamford too did more than enough to suggest his time spent on the bench may have been better served on the green stuff, and in that gripping 20 minute spell at the end of the first-half he gave both Kompany and Otamendi plenty to think about.
While he may not have the pace and energy of Jerome or the power of Mbokani, he has technique, guile and cleverness. And crucially he looks, unlike some loanees, to have bought into the club and the ways of Alex Neil. He’ll no doubt depart back to Chelsea at the end of his time – those who dream of signing him are, well, dreaming – but for now he appears committed to the cause.
I’d suggest he did more than enough to be leading the line at the Hawthorns next Saturday.
Talking of which, the trick – one that has failed us all too often this season – is now to harness all that was good about yesterday, add some more oopmh in the attacking third, and unleash it on the Baggies.
Easier said than done of course – next week’s opponents being the very antithesis of yesterday’s – but it’s a circle that has to be squared if we are to prove the pundits and bookies wrong.
But going back to yesterday, it was an interesting one, entertaining even, and it’s not often I’ve been able to say that this year. A few other random observations:
– Graham Dorrans and Matt Jarvis – both of whom did a decent job yesterday – look permanently knackered.
– Aguero and Otamendi have a very angry hairdresser.
– Man City fans are very quiet.
– Man City fans don’t “travel in numbers”.
– Fernando is no Yaya Toure.
– Jon Moss has a sense of humour.
– Canary Call can be both infuriating and funny.
– The plastic bags didn’t quite work but are at least useful.
– If given some encouragement Carrow Road can still be noisy.
So… a point, a smidgen of restored pride and a signal of intent from the players. And if at 12:44 yesterday someone had offered us all of those things we’d have have whipped their hand off. This is not over yet. We’re still in there and we’re still fighting.