It feels more than a little hollow to be penning thoughts on a football match after the events of yesterday.
With Glenn Hoddle fighting for his life, a Brighton fan passing away after falling ill just before their game with Wolves and then the helicopter crash outside the King Power, getting either elated or deflated over 22 men kicking a ball seems futile.
I’ll try though, but not before offering thoughts and best wishes to all those involved.
From a Norwich City perspective, it’s hard to know where to start. 1000 words can’t do anything like justice to the current topics of conversation, but when it’s boiled down there is only one that really matters… and that’s City 1, Brentford 0.
This one wasn’t beautiful – for long spells, it was the antithesis of those online clips of Todd Cantwell’s dancing feet and tiki-taka goals involving 18 players – but, in many ways, was no less impressive than the wins against Forest and Villa. In fact, this one was more ‘Championship’ than the Championship itself, with on this occasion grit, grind and attrition pushing silk and swagger to a very poor second.
But [cliché klaxon] still they found a way. And over a marathon 46-game season, especially one that now comes with aspirations of a top-six finish, that’s how it has to be.
Sometimes it won’t flow, sometimes we’ll struggle to get Mo Leitner on the ball enough in those pockets of space in which he thrives, sometimes our teenage full-backs will have off days, sometimes the movement off the ball will be forced rather than fluid, and sometimes we’ll give the ball away more than the River End approves of.
It happens. In the inexact science of football, this is normal – even occasionally for the Man Citys, Chelseas and Liverpools – and when it does it’s a question of defending resolutely, staying organised and being sufficiently clear-headed to still carry a goal threat when you get the ball back.
And on that score City ticked every box yesterday, all made that little bit easier because through a nicely flighted through ball from Timm Klose and a moment of sheer genius from Emi Buendia they had a slender lead to defend.
For their part, Brentford were tough opponents who play in not dissimilar style to City but who, on the day, did it to greater effect. They have not won since Dean Smith departed for Villa but that win will arrive sooner rather than later with performances like yesterday. And, to be honest, but for that horror miss by Neal Maupay would have earned themselves a point.
It’s all ifs and buts, of course, and if Jordan Rhodes hadn’t been quite so keen on replicating his West Brom penalty, it could have been a very different second-half for City. But one lame side-foot to the keeper’s left later and it was the same result. Expect the penalty taking stripes to have been formally removed from him at Colney this morning.
But it matters not. In a week in which City played three goods sides – all with top-six aspirations – they emerged with maximum points and have set down a marker to those who previously perceived them as mid-table fodder.
The players obviously deserve the credit and have delivered when the pressure has been cranked up, but behind it all is a modest, understated head coach who has handled a really difficult 18 months with huge dignity. Only now is he reaping rewards of sticking to his footballing beliefs, while being intelligent enough to acknowledge they needed tweaking to adapt to their new surroundings.
Last season, said style of football was clearly a poor fit for the Championship in its original form but we managed to just about get away with it because it was propped up by one outstanding individual. This season, minus the exceptional James Maddison, everything happens a little quicker, is done with a little more oopmh and is a little more fluid. Not massive sweeping changes, but tweaks that collectively have made one massive difference.
Also, the Farke/Webber players have had a season of acclimatising to both the Championship and their chosen style of play, and some new players have arrived who have enhanced what we already had. And there’s now a bench that goes beyond ‘trying something different’ and which offers genuine alternatives within the same structure.
All of which adds up to something that right now has captured the imagination. Even in the fallow periods, there is a desire and honesty about this group that makes them impossible not to love, and so even when the down time arrives, which it inevitably will, there now should be credits on the bank for Team Farke.
The buy-in appears absolute from all four corners. I just hope it stays that way.
So, two points from top, nine points in a week, Emi off the mark and a clean sheet. What’s not to like?
I can’t finish without at least mentioning you know who going to you know where.
Plenty of folk have been telling us it’s nothing to concern ourselves over and why it shouldn’t even be the faintest blip on our radar, but to me that smacks of almost airbrushing three of the greatest seasons in this club’s history.
What Paul Lambert did in those three seasons here was extraordinary. Exceptional. And every other superlative going. But he didn’t do it alone.
He had Ian Culverhouse as a fine second lieutenant, he had Holty and Wes in their pomp, he had some formidable characters in the boardroom and he had a squad of players who hung on his every word.
Lambert was undoubtedly young, fearless and inspired but it was the alignment of the stars, rather than Lambert alone, that gave us just the best 36-months. And when he went it was with a scowl and two fingers rather than cheery goodbye – let’s not forget that.
So, while it’s only human to look back and get a little misty-eyed when one who achieved so much here decides to try his luck there, let’s also ask ourselves who’d be rather have in our dugout right now? Farke or Lambert?