Wins over any Paul Lambert team are not to be sniffed at. Wins over a Lambert team when you wear yellow and green are literally unheard of, so it’d be unfair to dismiss this one as a case of Wolves not turning up.
That the Old Gold (or lurid green) were the wrong end of average needs to be recognised but in the context of them being made second best by a City display that epitomised the qualities needed to win a Championship game.
And in the rocky ride that has been 2016/17 that’s been a rarity.
All too often the resilience and grit needed to succeed in the second tier have been fast-tracked and City have headed straight for the free-flowing, fancy football, only to be met by unwilling, unaccommodating opponents.
Yesterday they made no attempt to circumvent the ugly side and instead, dare I say it, appeared even to embrace it. It was pretty horrible to watch at times and it would have scored lowly if points were awarded for artistic impression but it was committed, functional and sufficient to get the job done.
It helped too that for once the breaks went in City’s favour and it made a pleasant change to watch our opponents toil in the face of adversity. For too often, especially of late, we’ve been on the wrong end of cock-up followed by disaster followed by catastrophe, and to observe from a distance as Wolves suffered a similar fate was mildly cathartic.
And the irony of Lambert’s bullishness ultimately costing his team was lost on no-one, with three substitutions inside 66 minutes leaving left-back Matt Doherty as his goalkeeper of choice once Carl Ikeme had seen red for his two-handed shove on Wes.
Sometimes it pays, sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday Lambert, as is his wont, was quick to grab the bull by the horns when changes needed to be made but it cost him. A cautious Alex Neil type approach would have afforded him a new goalkeeper.
But, for all the talk of hero worship amid a potentially acrid atmosphere, the Wolves manager was a peripheral figure in the afternoon’s proceedings, and the prospect of the bloodbath many had predicted (and some had hoped) was realistically quashed by Steven Naismith’s nicely executed 13th minute opener.
And no-one illustrates the this mini-transformation from prima donnas to scrappers better than the Scot. For too long he has been at the heart of a group who gave off a disdainful air – one that idly screamed ‘we’re too good for this league’ – but of late we’ve seen glimpses of the player who once graced Goodison Park and who thrilled us on his City debut.
Over the last month the Scot’s form curve has been upward, in line perhaps with a belated realisation of what it takes to prosper in the Championship, and it culminated yesterday in his best performance in yellow since his opening day against Liverpool.
Naismith’s natural inclination to niggle and be petulant is now being harnessed in a positive way and is being pointed in the right direction, and allied to his Premier League quality we’re finally seeing more of the player we hoped for. It’s just taken a year.
Right now he’s forcing Alex Neil to pick him and it’s the first time I’ve been able to write that.
Wes, of course, had one of his really good days and was at times unplayable – just how the Wolves manager remembers him and why he courted him so publicly while in the Villa hot seat – but it would have been an interesting one to see the two exchange pleasantries post-match given his role in Ikeme’s sending off.
Jonny Howson was another who brought his A-game to proceedings and, for all the salient talk of blooding youngsters and adding hunger to the ageing group, it’s worthy of note that two of the names that spring to mind when we mention ‘stale and in need of a refresh’ were key protagonists yesterday.
It’s impossible however to ignore the current Carrow Road atmosphere and it’s clear it’s going to take more than a wins against Wolves, and hopefully Birmingham, to reignite what has become eerie and library-like. The reasons are clear and even in the midst of a thoroughly decent win there remains a sinister undercurrent.
It took the Barclay and Snakepit just three minutes to remind City’s CEO of their take on his tenure to date, and there’s no escaping the fact that Carrow Road, rightly or wrongly, is just one rotten performance away from exploding – some merely awaiting that eventuality.
All of which makes for an uneasy peace but peace it is – at lest for the next six days.
Quite how, or even if, this impasse can be resolved is a good question but having just achieved something that we thought impossible (I.E. Beating a side managed by Lambert) it’s perhaps a question for tomorrow.
Right now it’s only fair to recognise that Alex Neil did get it right yesterday. And credit where it’s due.
“Never mind the danger…”