In my previous column, I shared my son’s assertion that the 5-4 defeat to Liverpool earlier this season was the best game he’d ever seen.
That’s when he learned what most of us already knew; that matches full of goals, a penalty and an injury-time winner are so much better when you’re the one dancing at the final whistle.
It’s been said that the collective euphoria around Carrow Road was the best since our trip to Wembley. That may be true but it was also a different experience due to the way the two games played out.
At Wembley we produced fifteen minutes of scintillating football and then killed the game in a manner that Karanka and the boys from Teeside had done to us just weeks earlier. As each minute passed with absolutely nothing happening (I’ve re-watched it enough to know that’s true) the elation came from knowing that in the ‘biggest game in football’, we’d triumphed and were headed back to the Premier League.
Saturday was different.
In the space of just eight minutes we experienced hope, despair, anxiety and ecstasy and that’s a rollercoaster ride that Alton Towers could never hope to replicate.
With hindsight, I’m even glad that Mike Dean pointed to the spot. It simply added to the drama on the day and the ultimate delight that I’m still experiencing now. To achieve what we did in any match is amazing; to do it against a direct rival and in these circumstances takes it to another level.
As we sit and bask in the aftermath of the weekend’s events, there are two other words which have graced most match reports and pundits’ summaries alike:
Momentum and belief.
It could be argued that they amount to the same thing, or that one is a by-product of the other and vice versa. Either way (and courtesy of Martin Olsson’s strike), Norwich City now genuinely possess both.
But, according to Alex Neil, the belief within his management team and the playing squad never wavered, even in the midst of our wretched run of results.
It would take a far braver man than me to argue the point with him but from my vantage point in the stands, some of our displays (the no-shows at Bournemouth and Villa for example) were suggestive of a team bereft of confidence and littered with personal mistakes and self-doubt.
Even the manager’s constant changing of personnel hinted at someone unsure of what to do and looking for a Plan Z (on the basis that Plans A to Y had failed miserably).
Post-match comments began to sound increasingly hollow with even Jonny Howson’s “erm”s lacking any real conviction.
But as I said, who am I to argue with Sir Alex?
I would however be comfortable arguing that many fans had lost their belief on the basis that I was one of them and I know that I wasn’t alone. Many of the faithful had simply lost their faith.
There are those amongst us who can genuinely say that retained their conviction that all was OK but they were quickly branded by the rest of us as deluded or ‘happy-clappers’ (more of that in a bit).
Either way, something had to change.
Thankfully it was our fortunes and results rather than our manager. Alex has struck upon a settled team with Howson and O’Neil forming an effective partnership in the centre, Klose and Olsson bringing stability and solidity to the back-line, and Mbokani adding a goal-threat to his already outstanding ability to hold on to the ball.
Throw in a bit good fortune (which has so often eluded us) plus points on the board and suddenly at such a critical point in the season there’s a real purpose to Norwich City.
Or rather, momentum and belief.
And whilst we prosper, those around us suffer as a result. Shortly after the dejected Newcastle players traipsed off the pitch, Sam Allardyce admitted in his press conference to being “gutted” at the news of a late Norwich winner.
Alan Pardew and Crystal Palace find themselves one poor result away from being well and truly in the midst of a relegation fight that a few months ago would never have crossed their minds. Our belief and conviction erodes that of our rivals who may begin to think that the footballing gods are no longer shining.
As my colleague Jon Punt highlighted previously, the atmosphere on Saturday was immense. Was it all down to the cardboard clappers?
Of course not.
It was down to a team showing the resolve, quality and effort that has so often appeared to be lacking and a Carrow Road crowd that recognises what it’s seeing.
It’s why on Saturday, the clappers were used in genuine appreciation when in seasons gone by they have been used as missiles to show our discontent.
Things can change really quickly as we saw this season when nine points from four games, rapidly became the worst run since prehistoric times. There’s still a part of me that can’t help but draw the analogies to the 2004/05 season when a late run of form of 13 points from six games which heralded so much ultimately led to ‘that day’ at Craven Cottage.
Saturday’s result is a huge one but we all know that there are plenty of twists and turns, highs and lows ahead.
But for now, let us all enjoy it for what it was; a glorious day when we all became (whether figuratively or literally) a collective bunch of very happy clappers.
On the Ball City!
Steve posts on Twitter @stevocook
Keith B says
Momentum, definitely. It’s the first time this season we have got on a roll. Since the good performance but narrow defeat at Leicester instead of disappearing back into mediocrity we’ve built from that. But because of too many poor patches before we still have to keep that going for at least the next two matches.
For once the supposedly “inexperienced” Alex Neil actually has experience on his side. It is the third season in a row that he’s reached a key point where his team needs to come out top from 4; that the previous occasions were play-offs doesn’t matter.
A big part of his role now is keeping the players calm and focussed, dealing with their nerves and the endless speculation and hype. And that is exactly what he did last year and at Hamilton before that.
I thought it was particularly telling, given the huge pressure on us to get something out of last Saturday’s game, that nobody committed a rash tackle, nobody lost their head over the disallowed goal or the penalty, nobody ever looked like losing their discipline and getting booked.
Stewart Lewis says
Very good thoughts, Steve (and Keith B).
While Alex certainly gets excited when we score key goals, I’ve always been impressed by a certain inner calm and control about him. Even under pressure he doesn’t take the easy route of criticising officials, fixture lists etc. His composure and focus must communicate itself to the players, giving them the kind of discipline Keith talks about.
The atmosphere on Saturday was fantastic. Of course, part of it was response to the committee we saw on the pitch. But we can’t get away from the fact that the clappers helped.
Let’s keep them – and Gary O’Neil’s headband – for the final games.
Stewart Lewis says
“Commitment” we saw, of course!
Don Harold says
Am I the only one getting slightly uncomfortable with all the new found optimism? I will be nervous as hell all day Saturday and will have convinced myself by 2.55 that Palace are about to turn into the good version of Barcelona!
My joy at victories usually lasts about 48 hours; then life is full of worries about the next game…I thought everyone was like this.
Stewart Lewis says
Don (4) – You’re far from the only one. Did you see my article yesterday (starting “I’m worried…”)?
Not pessimistic about Saturday, but certainly apprehensive. Part of that is natural worrying, but it’s made worse by the game being at Palace. There’s nowhere I’ve more often travelled to with hope, and left with despair.
But Alex Neil can change that. After all, he beat Fulham…
Steve Cook says
Don – I’m sure I’ll be every bit as nervous come Saturday and there’s certainly no complacency or sense that we’re out of the woods. Stew’s piece earlier this week hit the nail on the head regarding the position we’re in. I guess the encouraging thing for me is that the last 3 games suggest the club is finding a resolve which means that the players can go out with confidence. It puts us in a far better place to tackle the huge games ahead.
Jon B says
With you Don 4. Must not get ahead of ourselves. Remember 3 out of 4 wins over Xmas and most talking about a mid-table finish. Plenty of work to be done.
Michael D says
I have more trust in the team now than I did at Christmas. The defence is (much) better, and there is a more resolute spine to the team now. They are showing more capacity to grind out results, and that’s what is key now. And its great that AN is not superstitious and has proven already a capacity to break hoodoos! OTBC
Dave B says
Great piece. I agree with (4) Don. For the remainder of last Saturday I was certain we were staying up.
Then that nagging feeling sets in about Sunderland. Should they beat us the pendulum swings back in their favour. It’s soo close.
I think Villa and Newcastle are both down now. I don’t see Newcastle turning it around.
Premier League Pedant says
Fantastic few weeks, but it’s important we don’t get carried away.
If we beat Palace by seven goals today we go above them…