For most City fans the last fortnight has been miserable.
Even if you were able to see through the failure to land a marquee name on Deadline Day there was still the Birmingham defeat to cogitate over and if you still needed something to get your teeth into there was of course the ongoing investment/ambition debate.
What we really needed was some more football to talk about.
That when it arrived it brought three points may still have been insufficient for some – and it wasn’t particularly pretty – but seldom can I recall a game so early in the season being so crucial.
Imagine the alternative…
Against a backdrop of planned protests, and with some legions of the Yellow Army seemingly ready to throw their weight behind a coup, to not have emerged with a win would have turned a mood that was already negative into something far more toxic.
Naturally there were a few moans and groans about the defending from set pieces from minutes 85 to 95 – and fair enough – but generally it was the type of ground-out win that typifies a Championship season, and one that if it can be churned out regularly enough can typify a successful Championship season.
I wrote post-Birmingham of how the current crop were circumnavigating the graft element and attempting to head straight to the pretty stuff but thankfully there was little evidence of that yesterday.
For the most part the first-half was ugliness personified yet still City [just to be clear, for me there is only one ‘City’] went in 1-0 ahead. It was standard Championship fare and despite the Canaries having an unbalanced look and feel it was still comfortable, with Messrs Lambert and Pilkington both offering Shane MacGowan levels of toothlessness.
The second-half was better though. A polite half-time request for more tempo was duly delivered and as a result City looked a more potent force, particularly in the attacking third where the previously lonesome Cameron Jerome was offered more support.
Through yellow tinted spectacles a 3-0 win wouldn’t have been unreasonable and – despite an iPad-less Paul Trollope’s protestations – City’s second-half level was worthy of winning the game comfortably. Alas this is Norwich City we’re talking about and we simply don’t do things the easy way – especially in the Championship.
Russ’s header, which he bizarrely awarded to Jonny Howson, and a beautifully curled right-footer from Josh Murphy should have made it a cruise but by the 85th Pilks had stirred from his slumbers and his two eleventh hour tap-ins made it far more squeaky than should have been necessary.
Alex, Frankie and Alan will have made them aware.
But – and I’ll no doubt get hammered for this – for now I’m going to concentrate on the plusses:
While a tad unworthy of the sponsors’ Man of the Match gong, there can be no denying his commitment to the cause, typified by his 80+ minute shift at left-back.
Clearly the manager felt post-Birmingham that change was necessary in the the back-four but while Ivo Pinto for Steven Whittaker was an obvious one, few saw Russ for Ryan Bennett as another.
I certainly didn’t, especially with Bennett’s aerial prowess looking a decent antidote to Ricky Lambert’s, yet the manager still sees Russ through the eyes of Gordon Strachan. His short-lived stay at centre-back ultimately offered RyBen a chance for redemption, which he took, but it was a left-back showing of maturity and experience that caught the eye.
For those who have played the game, they’ll know only too well how tricky it is to play on the ‘wrong’ side – even for pros – but the skipper carried it off with a calmness and assuredness that spoke volumes. As an attacking force Brady’s absence was felt but defensively it was as you were.
I haven’t expended too many column inches offering praise to the skip but yesterday he was worthy.
Is now finally their time? Ironically if we were still a Premier League club the likelihood is neither would have a sniff of a start but we’re not and both are gradually clawing their way to the forefront of the manager’s thoughts by virtue of goals and assists.
It’s all about end product with these lads and if they can continue to deliver, most will allow them the odd journey down a blind alley and the occasional cheap concession of possession.
That both appear just ahead of Sergi Canos in the current pecking order tells a little story of its own.
It’s time for us to throw our weight behind these two and offer them a platform on which to flourish.
As rampaging full-backs go there are few in this league to match one of our two favourite Portuguese inhabitants. And while he suffered at times in the Prem when his defensive qualities came under close scrutiny he’s having no such problems in the second tier.
There’s something endearingly thrilling about watching a full-back pin his ears back and run hell for leather down the flanks and Pinto does it with style, even finding the composure to deliver a decent final ball.
In a Kyle Walker-style, if we can keep him fit I can see Master Pinto making quite a name for himself as the season progresses even if his natural ‘wing-man’ is not, for the long-term, Jonny Howson, who immediately looked more comfortable yesterday when offered the chance to play in a more central role.
But Pinto’s natural inclination to bomb on does offer the manager the option to play a narrow midfield on the right side, hence why he felt able to give Howson the job – even if it didn’t work particularly well yesterday.
As cameos go Alex Pritchard’s offering yesterday was right up there and in 25-ish minutes we were offered several glimpses of the mini-maestro that ran us ragged on that infamous January afternoon of 2015.
Alex’s conundrum will be around where to play him, given his natural fit for the Wes role, but it’s one he’ll need to solve simply because of the extra creativity he brings to the side.
Yesterday offered a stark, unedifying glimpse into the next eight months at Carrow Road, with Cardiff City sitting deep and trying to strangle the life out of the game, and therefore what’s going to be needed is invention and occasionally something a little bit different.
Pritchard offers just that.
So, while the concerns – on and off the pitch – that were present at 14:59 yesterday still linger, there was sufficient on show to lighten the mood a little. If City can follow that up with another win on Tuesday night then who knows… the furore may even even subside to a dull roar.
“Never mind the danger…”