Blimey – who saw that coming?
Ten changes, including a sprinkling of anti-heroes, and after three wins on the spin we make it four… at Goodison… in a cup… with Naismith scoring… and we keep a clean sheet.
Make a note in the diary: Tuesday, September 20, 2016 – a day when everything in the Canary world felt right.
The short-termism of football of course means it could all go belly up on Saturday against Burton Albion and be followed by Ed Ballsing up his cha-cha-cha – which would dissipate the feelgood factor quicker than saying ‘Nathan who?’ – but it’d wrong not to enjoy the moment.
The Murphys naturally continue to make the headlines – Jacob profiting even though he wasn’t in the squad – and there’s no question the stage is now set fair for both to plunder more than their share of goals and plaudits in the months ahead, but there was so much more to last night’s win than just them.
Louis Thompson for example. Where did that performance come from?
Up against a midfield that contained a couple of England internationals and which was guaranteed to have more than its fair share of the ball, the former Swindon man stood up to the test and more and blew holes in the theory that minus Alex Tettey we have no-one capable of sitting in front of the back-four.
Youssouf Mulumbu – one who had previously threatened but failed to take the Tettey mantle – also offered glimpses of the player West Brom fans were loathe to see depart, and both hassled, harried, closed down and stood firm against Merseyside’s blue half.
But, as is ever the case, wins of this ilk don’t come around just because of individual performances. They happen because as a unit the team has cohesion, belief and a plan. And, often, because you have had a bit of luck.
Every box was ticked last night.
We rode our luck at times and were grateful to the profligacy of Barkley and Deulofeu, the abs of Alex Pritchard and the standing foot of Steven Naismith, but… so what. We bemoan the breaks when they go against us, so therefore should accept them with open arms when they come our way.
And, who knows, maybe one of the ugliest scuffs ever witnessed could just kick-start the City career of Naismith – one that so far has been punctuated with moans, groans, slips, frowns and scowls.
But, despite evidence to the contrary, there’s a good player in there somewhere and the reception afforded him by the Everton faithful when he scored his goal told the story. They rated him – still rate him – and were sad to see him leave.
The problem for Alex Neil has been where to play him – a riddle he solved in the end by not playing him – but inspired by familiar surroundings Naismith rose to the challenge last night and in doing so offered the manager a timely reminder that he’s still around and is up for it.
[As an aside, I do wonder if him treading gently in order to not incur any wrath from his former team-mates or the Goodison faithful led to a more, calm, measured and ultimately more productive performance? Just a thought.]
John Ruddy too offered the manager food for thought and in addition to the clean sheet offered up 90+ minutes of command and hunger; two qualities that from the outside looking in had gone missing from his game. For a snapshot, if you get to see the highlights just watch his reaction to Pritchard’s goal-line clearance.
But, here I go again talking about individuals on what was a night with fourteen different stories worthy of telling, right down to the energetic second-half outing from one Kyle Lafferty and a classy first-half from Nelson Oliveira.
It boiled down to a good night, a very good night – especially for the hardy 279 who made the trip – and one that confirmed City’s squad to be in the Championship’s top two in terms of depth.
And one that has now made me doubly nervous ahead of the Clough-induced banana skin.
“Never mind the danger…”