The date was May 25, 2017, and Norwich City had some news to announce. News that fans were all awaiting. News that had been the subject of endless debate and speculation over the preceding couple of months.
And, while the nature of that news was inevitable, its content was instead more unexpected. As we’re all aware, Stuart Webber took a bold path, appointing Borussia Dortmund’s Daniel Farke and embarking on a footballing odyssey that sought to restore City’s place in the Premier League.
An analysis of what has happened since, the ups and downs of last season and the divisions amongst our fan base, is, at this stage, futile. However, what is worth considering is just where fans realistically expected us to be just over eighteen months after Farke’s innovative and ambitious appointment.
I don’t know about you, but if somebody had proposed that we would enter 2019 sat second place in the Championship having lost just two league games out of our last twenty, simultaneously playing some of the most entertaining football seen at Carrow Road for decades, I would have considered them even the craziest optimist.
The reality is this. Yes, Saturday’s defeat to Frank Lampard’s Derby County did include the odd display of defensive incompetence, and yes, that coupled with conceding three goals to Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day may appear slightly concerning, but do those two games really discount everything else this team of heroes have achieved over the past three-and-a bit months?
Of course they don’t. Since that first international break at the beginning of September, Farke’s young side have blossomed into viable Championship challengers, combining their footballing aesthetics with a fight, grittiness and determination that we so acutely lacked last season. All those late winners. All those victories after coming from behind. The notion that conceding seven goals in two league games suddenly renders all of that irrelevant is nothing short of absurd.
City’s attacking play has been magnificent. The defending has – most of the time – been resolute and dependable. And, as we’re all aware, what has been most striking this season has been that fight, that resilience, that never-say-die attitude that has given us all those glorious memories of Millwall, Bolton and Forest at home.
I’m not oblivious to the fact that City have been conceding too many goals of late. I’m not oblivious to the fact that this team are far from the finished article. However, what I do fervently believe is that we, as fans, have a responsibility to keep the faith and not be blinded by two injury-ridden games in quick succession against strong second-tier opposition.
Given Saturday’s absences of Jamal Lewis, Moritz Leitner and Emi Buendia – all of whom have been vital in influencing City’s current position in the table – any result against a team including Harry Wilson, Mason Mount and co would have probably been our most impressive so far.
That this group of players came as close as they did – inhibited too, by the ill-timed lack of illumination by one of the River End’s floodlights – is, in itself, testament to their character, strength and determination.
When that absent trio are fit, the possibilities of what this side are capable of achieving are endless. The metronomic Moritz calmly dictates. Buendia offers both creativity and an infectious tenacity. Lewis combines defensive solidity with a continual attacking option down the left flank. That, coupled with the probably-imminent return of captain Grant Hanley, surely means there is still much to be excited about.
Hanley must start at Griffin Park on New Year’s Day. Despite Christoph Zimmerman’s pivotal role in City’s recent run, he looked fatigued in Saturday’s closing stages and was culpable for Jack Marriot’s dinked winner. As has become well-documented, Hanley is the sort of character who is capable of remedying our increasingly alarming inability to defend set pieces.
To think that many fans are targeting City’s concession of goals this weekend rather than focussing on the brilliance that has graced Championship pitches over the past few months is as baffling as it is absurd.
Some fans just seem desperate to criticise at any conceivable opportunity. Of course, there are defensive issues that can justifiably be highlighted, but some of the attacks seen on social media in the 24 hours after the game were ludicrously vehement – even by our fan base’s standards.
So please, City fans, keep the faith. Remain united in the face of adversity. A loss was always going to come. That it came in the midst of an injury crisis and against a good Championship side in the form of Derby County is no shame whatsoever.
Win at Brentford on Tuesday in front of a sold-out away end, and momentum is restored. This team is providing us with memories and a brand of football we’ll be able to cherish for a lifetime, and, no matter what happens this season, they deserve our unwavering support.
OTBC… and Happy New Year.