As my train trundled out of London, destined for Charlton, I was afforded a few moments of reflection.
A lot has happened since my last visit to the Valley back in February 2015. That particular game was Alex Neil’s sixth in charge and arrived a amidst a sequence of 13 away games that saw City unbeaten – nine wins and four draws – which of course culminated in a glorious Wembley finale.
City, being City, of course, did things the hard way that evening. Cruising comfortably towards victory with a 2-0 lead – Jonny Howson and Lewis Grabban both scoring before the break – some woeful second half defending (would you believe it?) put Charlton on the cusp of a unlikely draw.
Thankfully however, Cameron Jerome rode to our rescue with a late header, from a pinpoint Wesley cross, and earned City all three points.
Ironically it was also not so long ago that virtually every club outside the top flight aspired to be like Charlton Athletic. Eight out of nine seasons in the Premier League, seven of them consecutively from 2000-2007, was pretty impressive performance for a modest club, by Premier League standards, with a 27,000 capacity.
Throughout that time they continually punched above their weight, and it was a period of success that was hard earned and thoroughly deserved.
In the subsequent period Charlton have regularly bounced between the Championship and League One and the current relationship between the owner and fans is the complete opposite of harmonious.
Karl Robinson has been in charge since November 2016 and has been joined in the close season by new assistant manager, Lee Bowyer – not an individual you’d normally associate with clever man management and a calming influence.
The contrast with the new-look Canaries couldn’t be starker. The new set-up seems have given everyone a new sense of optimism – whether that’s misplaced, only time will tell.
This was to be my first taste of the Webberlution and spotting the numerous incomings wasn’t helped by the lack of any team numbers on the scant match programme. I’ll get there, of course.
Before kick-off, the personal anticipation was akin to being a young kid at Christmas – lots of shiny new big presents, but you really don’t know how good, bad, or indifferent they’ll be until they’ve been unwrapped and fully road tested (in the Championship in this case).
Early signs were however encouraging as City looked solid at the back. Be warned though folks… goal kicks are usually delivered short, to be played out, rather than hoofed long and this will undoubtedly lead to some discontent among Carrow Road faithful.
Charlton soon twigged and initially persisted with a high press and the first noticeable moment of goalmouth action came in front of the visiting fans, as one careless moment of play out from the back saw Marcel Franke give up possession cheaply. The resultant interception was smartly dispatched from the edge of the box and produced a good reaction tip away from Michael McGovern for a corner.
The rest of the first-half was characterised by the regular attacking threat of Yanic Wildschut down the right flank.
The lad looked lost and was underplayed under the previous regime, but now seems a man on a mission. He clearly has pace, with a handful of tricks, which bemused Charlton’s left back virtually all night long.
Yanic’s reward was a crisply struck 34th minute opener plus a second-half assist and all-in-all he should have considered it a good evening’s work.
Others to shine during the first 45 included the midfield combinations of Steven Naismith, James Maddison and Harrison Reed. The latter, I’m reliably informed, is titian not ginger, but either way he caught the eye for his speed, anticipation and all-round playing skills.
One game doesn’t, of course, make a season but, I suspect, Alex Tettey won’t be getting too much game time if this lad stays fit.
After the encouraging first-half, the second proved something of an anti-climax. The tactical switch to three at the back, plus three half-time substitutions did little to help the cause.
Naismith should have made it two early on before the second arrived, after smart work from Yanic, but he did eventually double City’s lead on 55 minutes.
There were further changes just after the hour with Josh Murphy moving central from wide left and Marley Watkins appearing on the right. Wildschut and Maddison departed – the latter after being on the receiving end of more than his fair share of niggling fouls.
At this point the game largely petered out into a pretty tame affair.
Charlton, you suspect, are unlikely to feature at the top end of the League One table, so it’s perhaps difficult to truly benchmark this performance but City, in contrast, have found more than one way to play.
Gone is the seemingly endless 4-2-3-1 formation and, while undoubtedly still a work in progress, this should be fun to watch. A bit of patience will definitely be needed but who knows where it could end.
One thing is for sure – it won’t be boring.