When you haven’t won a home game for 91 days and when, in that time, all you’ve had to celebrate is a late equaliser that ‘felt like a winner’, to finally win one offered up a whole plethora of emotions.
Relief was the overriding one. To have gone seven home games with victory and seven games in total without barely a sniff of three points is about as barren as a run can get and so to experience that winning feeling having almost forgotten what it was like offered some timely respite.
Yet, relief aside, it was the joy and excitement that had been missing and which returned in several decent sized dollops in that second half; something that few of us saw coming after that turgid first.
All of ills of recent weeks were there on display in front of a frozen Carrow Road and the watching Sky audience, with the laboured passing, the indecision and, in some cases, the lack of desire evident throughout, but further magnified when Jordan Rhodes pounced to put Wednesday ahead.
Any remaining vestiges of confidence drained away as that ball hit the net and to see the players trudge off at the interval with heads bowed as a smattering of boos filling the Carrow Road air was an unwelcome but all-too familiar sight.
Yet, amidst the labouring and the largely fruitless toing and froing emerged the odd clue that this could be the night. Twice Nelson Oliveira went close; once when he should have scored and just before the interval when he was thwarted by a good save from Keiren Westwood. The goalscoring chances may not have been plentiful but they were there; something that hasn’t always been the case in this exhausting run.
Quite what was said in the inner sanctum at half-time will, as tradition dictates, stay there but whatever it was it worked and it’s a fairly safe bet to say it wasn’t accompanied by flying teacups or hairdryers.
The first positive sign of meaningful intent was the hooking of Josh Murphy, with Marley Watkins offering a safer, if less dynamic, pair of hands when it came to offering protection to Marco Stiepermann and putting in the hard yards. (I’ll not dwell on Josh’s contribution – the lad’s clearly suffering from a major lack of confidence – but suffice to say those gold football boots were an unsuitable choice for the evening). Watkins had a positive impact on the game, no question.
Buoyed by that seemingly minor tactical change and the rediscovering of an inner belief that has been missing for the best part of two months they – to use a footballing colloquialism – ‘gave it a go’. The tempo was higher, the press was higher, the tackles snapped in, crosses were sent into the Wednesday box and there was an element of urgency about everything that happened.
The tone was set early when Oliveira, from Alex Pritchard’s cross, was again denied by Westwood’s fingertips. While the scoreboard still read ‘Norwich 0’, that the Portuguese striker was offering a threat and his body language was positive (and not sulky) gave everyone around him something to feed off.
And Carrow Road responded. The ‘two-way street’ that some talk of is valid to a degree but the crowd needs something to latch onto, some reward for their own efforts, and yesterday evening was a classic case of the team igniting the fans. Besides, it was so bloody cold we needed an excuse to jump up and down.
Pritchard, on his first start of the season, was pivotal throughout and clearly offers quality that has been badly missing. It was no coincidence therefore that it was his surging run and venomous strike that led to James Maddison doing what James Maddison does in front of the Sky cameras. And the tone was set.
The belief that had drained away when the Owls nudges ahead returned in plentiful supply and the ‘extra yard’ that football folk talk of when the tails are up was tangible. Harrison Reed alongside Mario Vrancic – who it has to be said had an excellent game – wrestled control away from Barry Bannan and co and it was City asking all the questions.
When Timm Klose’s thumping header from Maddison’s corner rocketed into Westwood’s net you just knew it was going to be our night. Despite having some good technicians in the ranks who can deliver quality into the box from dead balls we rarely offer a threat, so to see Klose’s header put us 2-1 ahead was indicative of a 90+ minutes beyond the norm.
From thereon in it was Wednesday, not City, who huffed and puffed to little avail and with the shoe very much on the other foot it was an absolute joy to watch us do to the Owls what Cardiff did to us just eight days earlier.
The third, when it came, was all about Oliveira, whose strength and determination (first time I’ve written that this season) were what enabled Reed to scamper through and buy the foul off Bannan. That Nelson dispatched it with style and then zoomed off to call out someone, somewhere was, on this occasion, forgivable. And quite why he tore his shirt off upon the final whistle was another mystery – but I’m happy for now to assume it’s was just his highly strung way of celebrating.
So, a good one at the Carra, one that few of us envisaged after 45 minutes, but [*cliché klaxon*] it’s one that simply has to be built upon. As a one-off it will be nothing more than a brief 94-minute respite from more gloom but if it can re-instil some genuine belief that this team can win more games than it loses then it will be job done.
Apart from anything else it also finally gave the fans something to cheer about and – for people like me – something to write about, which in itself is no bad thing.
The problems that lurk on the horizon haven’t gone away however – and as hard as I try it’s impossible not to look at that team and envisage what it will look like minus Maddison, Pritchard, Oliveira and Klose, and with Gunn and Reed having returned to their parent clubs.
Seeing just what they are capable of when they click brought that home yesterday. I just wish Delia and Michael would envisage it too.