Well, the run was never going to end with a meek, scrappy 1-0, was it?
Such has been the non-stop thrill ride we’ve been on for the last three months, there was no way the roller coaster was going to ease to a dignified and measured halt. Not a chance.
That it ended against Frank bloody Lampard’s Derby was obviously a source of frustration – not least because it confirms to the media their belief that he’s the “real deal” – but it had to end at some point, and I would rather we went out swinging and missing rather than covering up and still getting hit.
As it transpired we took one on the point of the chin and went sparko.
The floodlight episode added to the surreality of it all and, in the end, it was just about the most Norwich way possible to end an unbeaten run, and the most classic case you’ll ever see of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yet, if anyone had predicted a run of two defeats in 21 games, during which time they’ve played some of the finest football seen by a City side in years, they’d have been laughed at. Few saw this coming. So, however disappointing and self-inflicted this defeat was, for me at least, it was impossible to get angry.
Individual errors and a collective inability to defend set pieces were to cost us yesterday but, in truth, it is something that’s been building and to have conceded 13 goals in the last five home games suggests it just finally caught up with us. Up until then our attacking swagger and ability to conjure up late goals had dug us out of a few holes.
But – and it’s a phrase that really triggered some who were angry about yesterday’s defeat – that’s football. It really is. The inexact science of football.
And the fact we’re shipping goals for fun, especially at home, won’t oddly enough be lost on Team Farke, who I suspect may now turn to one Grant Hanley to sure things up as they did last season. They may consider his slightly less sophisticated use of the football a price worth paying for some extra solidity and organisation.
There has to be an acceptance though that this style of football will, at times, expose City at the back. That’s the nature of the beast. The measured, patient build-up encourages – necessitates in fact – both full-backs to join in, and so opponents will naturally look to expose us in those wide areas in transition. And it will happen sometimes.
The best advert for persevering with this style that has served us so well is that space in areas vacated by advancing fullbacks is not a problem Tony Pulis ever has to wrestle with.
What City can do better and have to do better is defend set pieces. More of the same will only end in disaster and disappointment further down the line, and they have to stop opponents “missing out the first man” quite so easily. Also they then must react smarter to the second balls.
To have worked so hard and played so beautifully to set up that 2-0 lead only for it to be eroded by two pieces of ‘eugh’ defending was a blow to the wotsits, and for once there was a tangible impact to the collective belief.
By contrast, to have gone in at the break two goals up, and with Derby looking so decidedly average, would have been edging into game-over territory, and I’m not sure even ‘fantastic’ Frank would have foreseen them being level at half-time after the pummeling they’d had.
The football in those opening 35 minutes has to be up there with the best we’ve seen since the Mike Walker years, and rarely have we seen such a relentless onslaught allied to such beautiful football – all constructed without Mo Leitner and Emi Buendia in the side.
When the dust has settled and the teeth gnashing and hand wringing have stopped, that spell will be well worth remembering.
But, without Mo partnering Alex Tettey in the base of that midfield, one thing we’re not as good at is that horrible term ‘game management’. Look back over the run, pick out the games in which Mo has been absent, and those tend to be the ones where the pendulum has swung a little too wildly at times and where we lose control of the game a little too readily – Forest being a good example after the Stiepermann foul.
Mario Vrancic is a fine footballer, who’s in a rich vein of form, but he does the role differently to Mo and doesn’t naturally bring that same order and calmness to proceedings that the German does. (There’s me stating the obvious again – “Norwich miss their best player shocker”).
The good thing though is this lot are resilient and setbacks tend, once the post-match emotion has subsided, to be treated with the same level of calmness as last-gasp victories. There will be no knee-jerk fixes and dramatic changes in formation or style – why should there be? – but they will quietly go about addressing the issues that have figured large in this mini-blip.
Clear heads and perspective are needed – something that was in short supply on social media last night – and I trust Team Farke implicitly to bring this to a group who have given us three unforgettable months.
Others, with deeper pockets (like Derby), expect to succeed. For us, in our age of austerity, this promotion push has been achieved through hard work and innovation. We have much to be proud of.
Yesterday was a bad day. We have plenty of good ones ahead. On to Brentford.