This is really turning into a very odd season.
From the depths of despair, when it felt like we’d never win again, to five-goal salvos where the opponents of the day are given a proper footballing spanking. We’ve seen both extremes and not a great deal in between.
The trundling has been kept to a minimum. For the most part it’s been either breakneck or ponderous. Feast or famine. And yesterday was most definitely a feast.
The throttle is now being squeezed. We just have to hope it’s not been left it a game or two too late.
But this is a mess that Alex Neil’s men are most definitely threatening to get themselves out of. After an upturn in form that had the word ‘ugly’ running right through it – and to be fair, few were complaining – yesterday the after-burners kicked into life and it was anything but.
Jonny Howson’s brilliant volley was a thing of beauty.
So too Wessi chipping Stephen Henderson from 35 yards.
Ditto Josh doing a ‘Darren Eadie’ v Ipswich (who remembers that?).
And finally Alex Pritchard’s fine brace.
And in between the football swashed and buckled in a way we could have only dreamed of in the bleak mid-winter and even bleaker autumn.
That City conceded a sloppy goal has still been seized on by some but if ever there was a day to turn a blind eye to defensive frailties yesterday was it. Besides, when Ross McCormack’s 15 seconds of fame occurred the back-four contained only two of its starters.
We’ll continue to make the odd defensive rick – certainly until surgery is undertaken in the summer – but so will most when the pressure becomes ever more intense, and for now we must trust our free scorers to make them non-critical.
Those who can find an axe to grind in the midst of such a glorious afternoon are probably supporting the wrong team. I made my feelings on Team Neil pretty clear but right now the momentum is forward and the mojo is back. And long may it continue.
Ultimately we all want the same thing, The route we take to get there, for now, matters little.
As has been pointed out by many, it’s fun to sweep aside those for whom mid-table is home but where City have fallen short this season is when going toe-to-toe with those who currently reside in the top six. That needs to change, preferably starting on Tuesday evening.
We’ve played each of the top six once. It reads DLLLLL. One solitary point. Seven goals scored, seventeen conceded.
And therein lies the riddle that Alex Neil and his troops need to crack. With 45 points still left to play for there really is every chance that City could sneak into the sixth, maybe even the fifth, but along the way they will need to successfully engage with those above them.
For what it’s worth (bear in mind I was once a numbers man), over the last decade it has taken on average 73 points to take sixth place in the Championship. City currently have 50.
Obviously it’s only an average and the range is ten points – Ipswich on 78 in 2014/15 and Leicester on 68 in 2012/13 – but minus the ability to control the results of others City are realistically looking at the equivalent of eight wins from fifteen games to give themselves a reasonable shout at sixth.
And while it remains a big ask it’s one that’s made more feasible by performances like yesterday.
We’ve long dispensed with that ‘second best squad in the division’ nonsense but against Forest – who let’s not forget had won three of their last four games – they showed that if mindset and application are aligned there is more than enough quality in this group to swipe teams aside. Particularly if, like Forest, the opposition are up for a game of football.
Knowing that yesterday’s opponents would look to pass rather than hoof permitted Alex Neil the chance to play Wes, Josh and Alex P in support of Nelson Oliveria; a trio who on another day would have been considered too lightweight for a Championship tussle.
But yesterday it worked and some, and put paid to the fears of some (me) that City would struggle to get enough of the ball to hurt Forest. Alex called it right and credit to him for that.
But now’s not the time to stand, drool and admire. Now’s the time to turn the screw and, in doing so, turn up the heat on those we have in our sights.
City’s upturn is not going under anyone’s radar. The good folk of Yorkshire will have taken note and hopefully they’ll be feeling a little uneasy as the medium size Norfolk lorry threatens to turn into a juggernaut.
Now bring on the Toon.
Julian Roberts says
Excellent piece Gary
Gary Field says
Three away trips to Yorkshire; to Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Leeds, are likely to be critical if seventh is to be turned into something much better. And, in my humble opinion, anything less than Top 6 is likely to be deemed a failure.
Gary Gowers says
Thanks Julian (1)
Quite agree Gaz (2), in particular about seventh downward being deemed failure. And the three trips to Yorkshire could indeed be defining. (Hope you’re okay btw).
Andy Delf says
Well myself and Mr Veasy were left with feelings of great joy yesterday, it matters not 1 jot that neither of us put Johnny Howson down as first scorer. This was why we became football supporters all those years ago, when matches like this come along they must be savoured. Two goals of the season in one match, the team, manager, board and supporters as one. Let’s enjoy the moment for at least the weekend. It will be much tougher against Newcastle on Tuesday night, but we can approach it with confidence, enthusiasm and a realistic chance of a favourable result. Finally a shout for Steven Whittaker a player who gets far more abuse in my opinion than he deserves. Maybe he isn’t the best player we have but my god he never fails to give a 100% whatever role he is given.
Gary Gowers says
Good shout Delfy (4) and I’m relieved that D Veasy also approved! Was indeed an afternoon to savour and – as you rightly say – one of the reasons we go in the first place. That days like yesterday don’t come along very often makes them doubly special when they do.
Keith B says
For me we should always be either in the Premier League or the top 6 of the Championship, and ever since McNally arrived (apart from his first season when of course we were in League One) that’s where we have been.
Comparing that with Doncaster’s record is what makes me convinced that the CEO is so key to our club.
Although Howson’s strike on a standalone basis is awesome. But as an all round effort Hoolahan’s goal is also very impressive. Lovely bit of skill from Pinto to hook the ball forward, a header well won and directed by Josh, as well as Wes’s “vision” for the finish.
But we live in the age of the soundbite so it’s Howson’s goal that we’ll see again and again. It’s like Goss’s Leeds goal – you normally only ever see the cross and finish, cutting out the slick passing move that started it all from (if I remember correctly) the right back position.
I do wish I’d been there yesterday though because the best goal I ever saw in the flesh is still not one of ours – it’s the famous Ronnie Radford one from 1972. I think Howson’s strike beats that.
Good summation Gary, and for those of us who were there, a goal of the season competition in just the one match. It still baffles me how many City supporters are critical of Howson; our diabolical run coincided with his injury, and boy oh boy, was he missed! His strike yesterday was a thing of beauty, and what we pay to see – but often don’t. Yes, hopefully we will continue to see it replayed – just imagine if it had been Ibrahimovich in the Premier League….
If current form continues, I’m sure that Howson will be in the Prem next season; hopefully in a yellow shirt.
Onwards to Tuesday, and what a great 3 points that will (hopefully) be.
O T B C
Roger Starling says
It is my belief, and I very much hope that I am right, that Jonny Howson is totally comfortable living in Norfolk. He loves fishing the Broads and is making a very healthy living. He is most definitely the heartbeat of this club, but I feel it would take an extraordinary offer to tempt him away. I can see him here for the rest of his career, and then retire to live in Norfolk. But then, a lot of our ex players do exactly that.
Stewart Lewis says
John (7): I know this sounds arrogant, but it’s based on playing and watching a lot of football: anyone who doesn’t rate Jonny Howson doesn’t understand the game.
He’s not usually as spectacular as yesterday’s goal – just a fine all-round footballer. We’re fortunate to have him.
Andy Delf says
Totally agree Stuart, if Carlsberg did footballers.
Keith B says
Re. Howson, the reaction of some fans reminds me of those who never fully appreciated Surman. They are probably the same people who rated Daryl Russell in years gone by simply because he was easy to spot, ran around a lot and wound up the opposition.
I agree with Andy (4) that Whittaker too is harshly treated by many fans. OK, he’s not top class, and doesn’t get many chances nowadays. But he keeps fit, is always prepared to give 100%, and when we were struggling for a penalty taker put his hand up – and converted.
Both Howson and Whittaker seem like consummate professionals to me, and probably know how to work within their limitations. It won’t surprise me if either or both finish up in coaching or management.
A fine performance & fine win. Is it just coincidence that since our two wantaways ( & a generally despised CEO ) have gone there seems to be a much improved TEAM out on the pitch. Perhaps the recent improvents have been as a result of happenings in the dressing room & elsewhere & not because AN & co have finally seen the light Long may it continue. A win on Tuesday & I think our fate will be in our own hands given the coming fixtures
Super performance, thoroughly enjoyable. Great goals, incidents aplenty, an afternoon well spent.
It seems like a shame that we are still becoming acquainted with Nelson and Pritchard, both of whom have been underused. Hoolahan and howson provided magic moments and josh celebrated his new contract belatedly with a performance allying his usual pace and finishing with some physical prowess. Witness his centre forwards leap and knock down for hoolahans goal.
The vexed question about corners turned and a rehabilitated Alex Neil was aired again in Saturday, for the record, while still outside the top six we are still in an unsatisfactory position. The current upturn in results has yet to fully erase the damage caused by the crash of three months duration endured earlier.
The burton Albion game is likely to answer once and for all whether or not we can talk of corners turned.
Dave B says
Proper job lads, keep it up.