We remind ourselves constantly that to support a club likes ours requires the enduring of many a bad day in order to then squeeze every last ounce of joy out of the good ones. And since that day at Wembley in 2015 we’ve had to endure a fair few stinkers.
The lows have certainly outweighed the highs and along the way there haven’t been too many occasions where you felt the heart trying to burst out of the chest. But last night was one… arguably the best one.
Glorious failure it may have been – of an ilk we also witnessed at the Emirates – but for those of us who have spent time of late questioning the current direction of travel last night offered both respite and many reasons to be cheerful.
That Willy Caballero emerged the hero was not a total surprise – he has previous in penalty shoot-outs – but it was tough on Angus Gunn who, yet again, was simply magnificent in the most testing of circumstances. For him to have guessed right just once in that shoot-out would have been a fitting reward but alas the Blues of the King’s Road left it until the eleventh hour to finally rediscover their swagger.
To see Angus trudge off at the end, head bowed, a sympathetic Josh beside him for support, spoke volumes of where Norwich City sits in the lad’s affections. He’s as ‘Norwich’ as you and I, regardless of where he plays his football next season and beyond.
But it wasn’t just about Gunny. The heroes came thick and fast at the Bridge last night and seldom have fifteen ‘losers’ emerged from a cup exit with their reputation so enhanced, even if the beginnings of an epic evening were of the nervous, tepid and shaky variety.
Once the heads had cleared from Chelsea’s high-tempo opening and it became clear there was a fragility around the hosts, both on and off the pitch, the Canaries warmed to the task. Harrison Reed and Mario Vrancic wobbled in those early stages and looked in danger of being over-run in the Tetbull area but as those around them grew in stature, so did they.
Despite Lineker and co scoffing at the lack of first-half entertainment to have gone in at half-time level was a massive fillip and, whatever the narrative, to have gone 135 minutes against the Champions without conceding was an achievement all of its own. It was a little hairy at times of course but when a block was needed or a body required to be put on the line it was duly delivered.
Yet it wasn’t just backs to the wall stuff; Nelson Oliveira’s dipping volley that bounced off the top of the bar a timely reminder to the watching audience (and pundits) that little Norwich were not there simply to be the stooges for the Chelsea globetrotters.
The smart money still remained on the Blue machine finally bursting into life, the plucky Canaries finally caving in under the pressure of the sustained onslaught, but it didn’t happen. Even when Batshuayi finally discovered that his banjo could be used to hit the cow’s derriere, courtesy of the magnificent Grant Hanley’s one second of ball-watching (we’ll allow him one), the Canaries were unfazed.
Josh would go close with a bobbler that struck Caballero’s post, James Maddison would see one saved brilliantly by the Chelsea keeper when we all expected him to score, but both were merely precursors to Jamal Lewis’s wonderful 94th minute glancing header that took the game into extra-time.
Cue mayhem. In the away end. At chez Gowers. Everywhere. Even Lineker must have smiled.
Quite how Timm Klose (what a cross that was by the way…) found himself on the left wing and why Lewis had made it his business to make an extra body in the box is anyone’s guess, but in the dying seconds of a cup tie that you’re losing anything goes.
At the risk of entering Paul Anderson and Jonas Knudsen territory (Ipswich fan: ‘It was the best five minutes of my life’) that was indeed a special moment, and not just for young Lewis.
Okay, so in hindsight we could have done without extra-time and there’s this niggle that what happened following defeat at the Emirates will happen again, but it’s in football’s DNA that you fight to the last, you give it everything, and every single one of those lads did exactly that last night. Nothing was left out on that pitch.
It has to be said that one Graham Scott added to the drama of the evening and the refusal by the man in black to be bowed by pressure from all four corners of Stamford Bridge – with the obvious exception of those clad in yellow – was to be applauded. That he irked Mr Conte et al to the degree he did was also worthy of being mentioned in dispatches. Good work Mr Scott.
So, heroic failure it may have been but we are now in a similar place to where we found ourselves during the eight-game unbeaten run. We’re starting to believe again that Daniel Farke does have us back on the right track. The thing that we all though he was building but then disappeared seems to have reappeared on the horizon.
There will be some aching limbs over the next couple of days, some will still be creaking on Saturday, so if ever those lads needed a rocking Carrrow Road to get behind them its this weekend. And on this occasion it feels like we owe them.
What we really need is a pantomime villain to get stuck into. Someone who has already peed us off this season, who has been disrespectful, rude and arrogant.
I’m looking at you Chris Wilder. And we’re ready for you.