We all feeling just a little better after that?
Yes, they were bottom of the league and there for the taking; yes, Norwich looked a little ragged and disjointed at times and, of course, all of the ills have not been cured in one fell swoop, but after one win in eleven we can’t be getting sniffy about who we beat.
It’s not as if we haven’t fallen at similar hurdles before and many – most even – had braced themselves for Boxing Day at St Andrew’s being yet another ‘along come Norwich’ moment.
That they emerged with three points, a clean sheet and a performance that was more Sheffield Utd than Aston Villa should be afforded the credit it deserves. So too the head coach’s decision-making for the afternoon, which has rightly been called into question of late.
The return of Alex Tettey and Tom Trybull to the starting XI were, to be fair, the two easiest decisions of the lot – most definitely in no-brainer territory – but to give Jamal Lewis his full debut with Josh Murphy for company a few yards ahead of him smacked of bravery. As it transpired both delivered.
Given his very obvious dearth of confidence, to have handed Josh the stripes when part of his role on the day was to support, encourage and coerce a debutant was a big call but one that paid off. Josh grabbed the baton and ran with it, and his goal was the very type of chance that would have seen him tighten up and squander in recent weeks.
Hopefully he’ll kick on from here. For all his deficiencies, which when confidence is rock bottom gets laid horribly bare, Josh offers pace and, on a good day, zip to a side that in truth isn’t blessed with too much of it. We need a fit and firing Josh Murphy and yesterday there were glimpses.
The support he offered Lewis was something we’ve not seen before. Usually it’s Josh who needs the quiet word in the ear and the arm around the shoulder but for him to have been handed that responsibility and then respond to it was a tick in the box for Daniel Farke.
Jamal’s fast-track to first-team action – something that began in the pre-season in Lowestoft but which was unfortunately stalled by injury – offered him the chance to leapfrog Messrs Stiepermann, Husband and Toffolo in the pecking order, and yesterday he took it. A natural left-back being slotted in at left-back; not rocket science but still a bold call in the circumstances.
Marco Stiepermann’s struggles were very obvious in the ‘one in eleven’ run but, unlike others, I don’t feel inclined to decry the German’s efforts at filling in in a position that was clearly unfamiliar to him. He was one of the heroes of Bramall Lane after all and played a key role in the good run that preceded the rotten one. I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of him, although possibly (hopefully) we have at left back.
The shirt is now Lewis’s to lose and let’s all hope the youngster can now stay injury free and cement his place in the side. Early days though and the learning process will almost certainly include some difficult days; days when the faithful needs to stay with him.
It was however the Tettey/Trybull axis that made the difference yesterday. While Harrison Reed and Mario Vrancic have individually produced some decent performances of late, as a collective and as a defensive shield it simply hasn’t offered the same protection as Tetbull (sorry).
One could analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each player and would probably arrive at a similar score for each pairing but as a unit there’s only one winner. The clean sheet didn’t occur by accident. Aesthetically pleasing they may not be but effective they most certainly are, and there’s a steel and resilience that is absent with every other defensive midfield combo, not just Reed and Vrancic.
That James Maddison and Alex Pritchard found themselves doing their stuff in areas that hurt the opposition rather than in areas where they are forced to go pass sideways was no accident. Again, it was the ballast provided by Tettey and Trybull that facilitated this significant improvement in City’s attacking thrust.
Perhaps I’m dreaming, but long may that continue.
So, not one to go overboard about – perspective is everything – but one to be enjoyed nevertheless and for four days at least maybe a little peace will break out.
You never know.