When Kipling wrote If he clearly hadn’t endured a 77 day run without seeing his team win a game of football. Or even a three month spell without seeing them win away from home.
So please don’t expect me, in the next 900 words, to treat Triumph and Disaster the same. That’d just be stupid. Instead I’ll try and suck every last drop of joy out of an afternoon that was beautiful in its ugliness.
That we managed in the process to get a rise out of Tony Pulis was one big, fat, juicy bonus.
Yet, in truth, it was a game that but for some smiling football gods could so easily have gone the same way as so many that have gone before.
We’re back to the ifs again, but if Sessègnon had made the most of Gary O’Neil’s one wayward pass of the afternoon just before the interval and if Matt Jarvis’ air-shot / mis-control / exquisite back-heel hadn’t landed sweetly in the path of Robbie Brady then we’d likely be bemoaning yet another miserable away-day.
But for once the fine margins fell in City’s favour. And, for the Yellow Army as least, it was brilliant. Sod the neutrals.
We’ve spent far too much time this season watching City weave some pretty and quite intricate patterns but still being on the receiving end of the result. Aesthetically pleasing but with nothing to show has been the story by and large and we’d all yearned for an ugly win. Now we’ve got one.
Many had spoken of the need for a continuation of the football played in spells against Manchester City and how it was key to produce a performance of a similar ilk when faced with opposition from outside the Premier League’s elite. But in reality it was never going to happen.
Pulis’ Baggies, in terms of their playing style (and everything in fact), are about as far removed from Pellegrini’s City as is possible to imagine. Think Dennis Skinner. Think George Osborne. That’s the type of chasm we’re talking about. And so to be afforded the time and space to produce the quality of passing that we saw in spells last week was never going to happen.
Alex Neil – and he talked about it in Friday’s press conference – felt it imperative that City matched up with West Brom physically and so selected an XI that he felt could withstand the muscle and sheer effort that comes as standard with a Pulis team; Wes being the sacrificial lamb.
And with West Brom lining up in a tradional 4-4-2 (ish), it offered the rare chance to play two up front, with Patrick Bamford playing just off Dieumerci Mbokani in the same way he did so successfully off Kike last season. With a four v four match-up across the midfield there was no reason for City to be over-run as is invariably the case in a four v five.
What transpired was, certainly for the first 45, something akin to a Sunday morning pub league stalemate when both teams had taken copius amounts of drink the night before. It was attritional, hard on the eye and turgid; the only thing missing being a plethora of pot-bellies.
But, given the opposition, it was also essential. To have succumbed to the physical battering would have given the Baggies the initiative.
The goal when it arrived, however ugly and fortuitous, was timely in the extreme and to get our noses ahead at a time when Pulis would have demanded a head of steam from his team indicated that it may, just may, be our day.
What followed was predictably nail-biting, and a second goal would have saved many a furrowed brow, but a back-four that now has a central, dominant, imposing figure at its heart rose to the task magnificently. They were organised, they retained their shape, they didn’t drop too deep and were composed. Most un-Norwich City like.
That John Ruddy had not a single shot to save essentially tells the tale. There was to be no Alamo. Instead, for the most part, the Baggies were kept at arms length.
All season we’ve been crying out for a hero, a figurehead in the mould of Grant Holt, one who can be turned to when the brown stuff and the fan are in close proximity. And in Timm Klose it appears we’ve found one… or rather Lee Darnborough has found one.
The Swiss international, alongside his obvious experience and good technical ability, has added something in spades that has been lacking all season: character.
From his very first brush with the good folk of Norfolk in his joint-presser with Steven Naismith, the ex-Wolfsberg man has charmed all before him. He screams ‘good egg’ and bit by bit his grasp of the demands of the Premier League have reached a level befitting an international centre-back.
He’s made a difference and has been an improvement on those who have gone before; the prerequisites of a successful new signing. And, crucially, he appears to be inspiring those around him.
Ryan Bennett and Seb Bassong both look better centre-backs when playing alongside him. Martin Olsson looks to have re-established himself at left-back in that back-four. And, yes, Russ is delivering at right-back.
At the best possible time we now do have a clean sheet in us. Two in a row in fact, which a few weeks ago would have just been the stuff of dreams.
There’s still lots to do of course, and defeat yesterday really could have sounded the death knell, but we now have the scent of safety and have sounded a battle cry that will have resonated in the North East.
Let’s keep believing.
“Never mind the danger…”