The fullness of your glass probably dictates whether yesterday’s win over Rotherham was in the same envelope as Burton, Cardiff and Wigan or a clinical, professional job done as seen through the eyes of Radio Norfolk’s summariser, Simon Lappin.
If I were to use the stroll back to the car down King Street and beyond as the barometer then the consensus appeared to be the former:
“We should be beating sides like this easily”, said just about everyone.
It’s the sort of lingo you expect to hear from swaggering Gooners, spoilt Mancs and Scousers with long memories, but now we’re at it. That word ‘entitlement’ never seems far away when we hit the second tier.
On paper we probably should be beating Rotherham “easily” and if it were a case of balance sheet v balance sheet instead of 11 v 11 then we would. And we would probably beat three quarters of the Championship comfortably if that were the case. But it’s not and football’s not like that.
The Millers are bottom of the table for a reason yet they came and had a go, especially in the second half, and set up to make it difficult for City to break them down. And as the game opened up they had enough about them to carry a threat going forward; Alan Stubbs no doubt regaling his players with tales of our occasional soft centre.
So, against that backdrop it came as no real surprise that it took until the 89th minute to secure the three points. That’s the Championship in a nutshell. And for that reason I’m in the Lappin school of thought.
Carrow Road has been the scene of numerous banana skins over the years – so much so, some of us almost come to expect it – so to have successfully negotiated the hurdles set out by Burton and Rotherham in successive home games can only be a good thing and, ultimately, who cares if it wasn’t entirely plain sailing along the way.
Yet still the hard yards are ahead. Paradoxically, running alongside the ‘why aren’t we hammering teams like this’ brigade, I also detect a sense of complacency around the place; some appearing to assume that now we’ve hit top spot it’s our for keeps, or, at the very least, top two.
Not going to happen folks – at least not in my opinion.
We’re only a quarter of the way into the season and there’s not even the slightest hint of clear water between City and the top six, even following a run of six league wins in the last seven games. The slogfest has only just begun.
All of which should take nothing away from yesterday’s win which, despite not being the free-scoring free-for-all of dreams, was littered with exceptional performances – some of which came with bells and whistles, others which nestled below the radar.
Wes, of course, was sublime and given that the Millers saw fit to not close him down as I’m sure Stubbs would have liked, absolutely ran the show. It has become a cliché, but there’s no escaping the fact that he really does seem to improve with age and at this level his ability to jink and dribble and create is something quite rare.
We’re so lucky to have him and, for many of us, have that fortnightly opportunity to witness him in action first-hand. As one #NCFC tweeter put it, he’s one that in years to come we’ll be speaking of fondly to those who never had the pleasure.
‘That Wes Hoolahan was brilliant. Tiny little bloke. Best dribbler I’ve ever seen. There’ll never be another’.
Yet, there is another – well almost. Alex Pritchard, while of a different playing style to Wes, appears to be the ‘number 10-in waiting’ and while he may have a fair bit more waiting to do before the shirt is his, his link-up play with Wes et al yesterday was top drawer stuff.
The manager clearly has ongoing issues around his work rate when not in possession of the ball but when he’s on it he has that spark to make things happen – a Championship oddity. We have two who possess said quality, and that’s even before James Maddison enters the equation.
So let’s all agree that on that particular score we’re well equipped – although there will be days when, due to the ferocity that accompanies standard Championship fare, Wes and Pritchard won’t be on the pitch at the same time.
And then there’s the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman. No, it’s not a joke (when do you ever get one of those on MFW?) but instead a cheap, loose description of those who didn’t make the headlines but whose contributions were equally important.
Messrs Jerome, Dorrans and McGovern were magnificent yesterday, each bringing their own specific skills to the party, and have all emerged as vital cogs in the current set-up; Jerome for his tireless running of the channels AND goal, Dorrans for his range of passing and voracious work-rate, and McGovern for his ever-increasing presence and fine shot-stopping.
So, while the fettle is decent and the league position healthy, some big challenges await, starting at Craven Cottage on Tuesday evening. Let’s just hope Alex Neil is able to tackle the Cottage hoodoo with the same aplomb he did the Manager of the Month curse.
“Never mind the danger…”
Gary Field says
A quarter of the way through the season, top of the League and, yet, we’re still “work in progress.”
Yes, the fixture list has been relatively kind to us so far, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and we’ve largely managed to do that with ease, if not always with the expected conviction.
Fulham next up and the last time I saw us get something there, Big Iwan equalised and there was terracing behind the goal!
Keith B says
The interesting thing about your observation on Pritchard having “ongoing issues around his work rate when not in possession” is that that’s pretty well what was said about Wes when he joined.
Neither will ever be pocket dynamo tacklers in the Billy Bremner mould. But Wes has learned over the years how to track back, occupy space, and make things more awkward for the opposition. That’s presumably what Pritchard needs to do.
If conceeding goals whilst in the lead was an occasional blip i think we would not be making an issue of it. But it is virtually every game. Failing to keep a clean sheet against the likes of Burton and Rotherham does not bode well for games against better opposition.
Stewart Lewis says
Those saying “we’ve only faced rubbish so far” and “the fixtures have been kind to us” will need to be a little careful. We’ve now played more than half the Championship, and it won’t be too long before we’ve played them all.
They might suddenly look a bit silly.
When martin is on the pitch the opposition are in the game. It’s a fact, they must do the macarena when he’s on the team sheet. “He’s in boys and he’s their captain! Pahaha. We will score one even if we don’t bother shooting.” Yet again, like for Scotland in midweek, Martin cannot do the basic and gets drawn to the ball leaving klose and Olson marking 3. I feel sorry for them having to endure him.
Gary field – How can you claim us to be a work in progress? These are largely the same players we have seen for multiple seasons so it’s not like we don’t know what we’re getting. We’re not a work in progress, this is it. We have arrived and this is how we will play for the season. A bit of quality, dogged for 89 minutes and prone to collapse in 1. It’s predictable because that’s exactly what we are.
This season’s performances & results show we are without doubt a good Championship side. Probably (& hopefully) too good , but not good enough for the PL. Last time we were promoted we missed the boat in bringing the squad up to the standard to survive This season we are probably stronger than last , so why the wobbles we have witnessed this season when winning & looking comfortable. I personally don’t think it’s a question of personal , although some of last quarter substitutions leave a lot to be desired No it’s a question of leadership on the pitch. This has been apparent since the departure of Grant Holt. Can’t imagine teams with a Bruce , Watson , Forbes or Stringer playing giving us such anxiety when winning 2-0 with 20 mins to go ( or 3-2 with one minute of added time left !!!!) There has been much debate on the merits of Martin as a player & as captain. I don’t see him as a natural centre half & although his personality might be perfectly suited to many duties of being club captain , leadership on the pitch when under pressure is not one of them Sort that one Alex & I feel confident we will all be ‘ over the moon ‘ come May.
Gary Gowers says
Blimey ‘Jeff’ (5) – even by your standards, shoe-horning in some abuse for the skipper after a 3-1 win that has taken us top of the league seems a tad excessive. Am by no means his biggest fan but didn’t see him do too much wrong yesterday.
But remember… there’s a blank guest blog here awaiting your thoughts.
Dave H says
The irony is I suspect the people complaining about us not comprehensively beating the lesser teams are probably the same who moaned last year about us not competing well enough when we were one of the lesser teams.
I don’t understand the continuous pleas for Jeff to write his thoughts – I don’t think he can develop them further than tedious comments he currently puts. Despite all the complaints, since Russell Martin has been in the team, we’ve won 6 out of 7 and were a minute away from 7 straight wins – I’d settle for that record.
Speaking as an ex-Middlesex league squash player/coach, there’s no such thing as ‘players/teams WE should beat’. Margins are narrow, so if you have an edge then you have to concentrate fully mentally and physically for that edge to be decisive in your favour. Just turning up expecting your fitness and widely-accepted superior skill-set to do the trick and you will struggle to beat a less equipped but determined opponent. As we’ve seen with Norwich at times, take your foot off the gas, give a sucker an even break and it’s damned near impossible to regain that edge and it’s you who becomes the sucker. Alex Neil appears well aware of the necessity to keep each and every player fit and completely focussed for each minute of every game. If the players can do this, this season will go well. OTBC!
Derek P says
Gary (8), I’m not sure Jeff deserves your constant offering of a guest spot. Clearly, he has no interest in taking you up on it and I am not sure we would wish to read 800 words of the sort of nonsense he served up in comments 5 & 6.
We are 12 games in and top of the league. We’ve just won 7 out of 8 games, when did we last do that?
We’ve a lot to be happy about at present. There will be more difficult times ahead, although I am one who believes that us and Newcastle will eventually run away with this League this season.
Bob in Diss says
We’re picking up max points against lower half teams – previous seasons we didn’t do that so let’s not moan too much about conceding the odd goal and not totally dominating teams – who has been doing that in this league? We won at Wolves who won at Newcastle – we won at Forest who beat Birmingham this week.
Season before last, Watford went up (and came within a minute of winning the league) essentially by beating the bottom half sides – they had the poorest record of any of the top 8 sides against others in the top 8 (including us who did the double over them). This point seemed to pique Watford fans when it was raised on this site but I’m sure they weren’t bothered when they subsequently got promoted.
Gary Gowers says
A classic MFW link you’ve attached there ‘Bob’ – the site’s record holder for comments I believe. A fine piece of prose from a much loved ex-columnist 🙂
I’m getting bored of the pessimistic doom-sayers who are never satisfied whatever we do. We are top of a very competitive division with a quarter of the season gone. We are averaging over 2 points a game. Unbeaten at home. Highest away goalscorers. Conquerers of Everton at Goodison. What’s the problem? Get behind Alex Neill and his boys and stop moaning !
Gary Field says
@8 – Gary, you and I both know we’re wasting our time inviting “Jeff” to pen 800 words for a guest blog, if only because he’d have to reveal his true identity.
Russell Martin must be counting his lucky stars that “Jeff” isn’t the NCFC manager either, otherwise he’d never have played 270 games for City, with well over 100 of those in the Premier League?
Clearly, Paul Lambert, Chris Hughton, Neil Adams and Alex Neil are all clueless for persevering with Russell Martin, between them, for the best part of seven seasons.
If there’s one thing that’s predictable here, it’s “Jeff”.
Mick Dennis says
Russ was outstanding: his best game of this season. The goal conceded was not due in any part to him. He made several vital interventions. He’s developing a good understanding with TK. He consistently found Dorrans and thus started periods of possession. The system we play — with fullbacks bombing forward, creates a need for mobility for the CBs but TK turns like a milk float, so Russ is probably a better partner than Ry Benno. Jeff is a binner or a half-wit or both.
Mick Dennis says
Oh, and the late substitutes combined for the vital third goal, and we haven’t got to be Barcelona under Pep; we just need to be good enough to average 2 points a game in this division.