That City now find themselves just a point shy of the Championship’s play-off places after such a wretched autumn speaks volumes for the topsy-turvy nature of this division.
Promotion, or at the very least a crack at the play-offs, remains there for the taking if this club can re-manoeuvre itself to a place where everyone, from top to bottom and including the fans, is singing off the same hymn sheet.
In the crazy, dog eat dog world of the Championship, where ‘champions elect’ Newcastle have lost back-to-back league games, anything seems possible – even for a club that appeared on the cusp of civil war.
Perspective is important of course, and it was one solitary win against a Brentford side on the wrong side of ordinary, but having endured several weeks of almost constant torment yesterday afternoon provided two hours of much needed escapism; a parallel universe jam-packed full of sugar and spice and all things nice, not to mention five goals and a clean sheet.
Whether Alex Neil’s decision to play Jonny Howson and Ivo Pinto – despite neither possessing anything like the required levels of match fitness – was a final throw of the dice to save his Norwich City career or simply a calculated gamble will only be known by his inner sanctum. But it worked.
The pair added a double-dose of energy and desire to a group that has been plagued by lethargy. Add to that mix Howson’s nous and ability to cajole and inspire those around him and we were offered up a performance unlike anything witnessed since the opening day at Ewood Park.
But it wasn’t just the Howson and Pinto show; Alex Pritchard, revelling in the free role that starts out as ‘number 10’ but effectively offers him freedom to just go out and hurt teams, was unrecognisable from the sulky, surly figure who flopped at the Amex.
Nelson Oliveira too offered up his best performance in a yellow shirt and his thumping second-half finish was a timely reward for a decent shift. The confidence afforded by the goal was clearly evident, as is the wont of centre-forwards, and will hopefully propel him on to better things after a lukewarm start to his City career.
But in the same way it has been futile of late to highlight individual errors because there have simply been so many, to single out individually all that was good about yesterday is equally nonsensical, suffice to say it was the antithesis of Brighton – literally.
And at its core was sharp, incisive passing with, crucially, the ball being moved at pace through the thirds; the slow, ponderous build up of late hopefully having been consigned to its rightful place in the tactical rubbish bin. But we’ll see.
I’ll avoid the analogy that starts ‘one swallow…’ but those who used it were quite right.
Many of the gripes and moans that prevailed at 14:59 were still relevant at 17:00, and there is a long way to go before we’re set fair for an assault on the top two but it was a start and, above all, it was a joy to watch 95 minutes of quality, free-flowing football when the recent fare has been quite the opposite.
And it was important that the quality was sustained rather than it being a half-decent first-half followed by a turgid second; hunger and determination prevailing over half-heartedness and apathy.
No-one, Alex Neil most of all, will be getting too carried away by yesterday’s win and set against a backdrop of six consecutive defeats it remains small pickings, yet partly forced and partly by design there appears, for the first time in a while, the makings of an XI that has balance.
The back-four, while including two centre-backs with huge question marks still hanging over them, somehow managed it’s first clean sheet since the 1-0 win over Bristol City on August 16 and for all said question marks it’d be difficult not to offer them a chance to replicate that performance at Oakwell next Saturday.
And then it’s crunch time. Brentford offered little, other than a couple of opportunist efforts from reported City target Scott Hogan, but Barnsley, off the back of an impressive 3-0 win at St Andrew’s, will be a very different proposition. Ryan Bennett and Seb Bassong will again go under the microscope.
If City can emerge from next Saturday with the spirit intact and momentum they then face two home games in the space of four days, against Aston Villa and early pace-setters Huddersfield. Emerge from those unscathed and then maybe, just maybe, we could contemplate a new year with Alex at the helm and renewed hope.
But, for now, let’s just enjoy yesterday for what it was – a quality and much needed win against mediocre opposition – and squeeze every last drop out of six days of calm.
“Never mind the danger…”