The River End was a tetchy old place last night. Around me, Stiepermann became the new Cantwell. Mo took some too; too “flicky and lightweight”. And Onel is apparently “simply not good enough”.
An alien dipping into Carrow Road for the evening would never have guessed we were destined to end the night a minimum of four points clear with three to play.
Then up stepped Mario.
And in a cultured swoosh of that left foot, the tetchiness and niggling dissipated. It’s not only the Barclay and Snake Pit that can do ‘limbs’.
That it was just a point and not three was disappointing once the dust had settled, but it was a point that took City five clear with three to play. A win at Stoke on Monday and a slip up from either of Yorkshire’s finest and we’re up. We’re that close.
But my god it was a nerve-shredding evening. Think back to those early season games when points were just for accumulating, when a place in the top six was little more than a pleasant thought and when the pressure gauge just hovered the four or five mark.
Now, all of a sudden, with points as precious as gold dust and the finishing line tantalisingly in sight, it almost becomes a different sport. For the players, the mind gets fuddled, the shoulders tighten, and decision-making becomes anything but instinctive.
Throw into that mix, opposition who are playing with confidence, without pressure and who have one special player in their line-up and it becomes doubly fraught … especially when they have the bloody cheek to respond with an absolute worldie after City have taken what was supposed to be a nerve-settling lead.
Alas, Forestieri almost from the word go seemed determined to play the role of party-pooper and did to City what Emi Buendia has been doing to others for most of the season. He was helped, I hate to say it, by a rejuvenated Steven Fletcher – who gave Messrs Godfrey and Zimmermann an evening of uncomfortable moments.
Let’s be fair, Wednesday were good – much better than they were against Leeds by the way – and will be there or thereabouts next season on the evidence of last night, even if they did come out on the right side of Geoff Eltringham’s big decisions.
Talking of which, I’m not in the habit of using this column to bemoan the quality of the EFL’s officialdom – and I’m not about to start now – but if someone as measured and fair-minded as Daniel Farke sees fit to have a full-on rant about how the big decisions have all gone against us over the last three games, then you have to listen.
The keeper should have seen red for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, that much appeared clear, and clear too should have been Fletcher’s handball, Thierry Henri-style, for Wednesday’s second goal, but, hey, Steve Bruce probably had a point in querying how the clock managed to tick round to 97 minutes and if indeed it was a foul on Vrancic that led to the free-kick.
Eltringham didn’t have a great night but there’s no-one conspiring against us and there’s no stitch up. We’re just having a tough run on big decisions. We have to be better than hurling the toys out of the pram every time decisions go against us.
Instead, we should salute the heroes who have helped us overcome the hurdles put before us – both from our opponents and those men in black – and in addition to Mario’s heroics last night, one Tim Krul has emerged as an absolute giant over the last couple of months.
Not only is he the conductor-in-chief of the Barclay and River End, when holding court in front of them, but his saves from Leon Clarke on Sunday and Forestieri last night were just simply world class. I’ve defended him when the flak has been flying, citing his influence on those around him, but in the process almost forgetting what a magnificent shot-stopper he is.
Without that save from Forestieri’s second thunderbolt of the night, Mario’s sublime free-kick could have been just a consolation.
Farke’s decision to slot Mo Leitner into the Buendia role didn’t work especially well and may have reminded a few what a no-win position Todd Cantwell found himself in, but the logic of making a like-for-like change rather than two positional ones was sound enough.
Yet, for all his quality, even our Mo can’t dust off the cobwebs of a four-month absence just like that, especially when in an unfamiliar role. He was infinitely more effective when he drifted and was able to get on the ball in central areas, and with Emi back for the Stoke game, he may just need to get the tracksuit out again.
But he didn’t hide, he didn’t shirk his responsibilities and even when misfiring he was happy to take the ball in tight areas. Stiepermann too didn’t hide when things were not clicking and still tried to make stuff happen; sometimes being guilty of trying too hard and trying to do too much.
That in adversity, and with the River End’s fraught-o-meter gauge rattling like Vesuvius’s seismometer, they still found a way to salvage a point says everything about the desire and spirit in this group. It’s phenomenal. It may only have been a point but what a vital, seismic point it was.
So, we’re close, really close, but not quite there yet. It now feels like when and not if.
Never mind the danger…