You know it’s your day when for the first time in living memory an opponent’s successfully converted penalty kick is chalked off because it was deemed a double-hit.
Not for the first time this season, a moment of good fortune tilted the odds in City’s favour, and from thereon in it felt like it had to be City’s day.
All the rotten luck of 2019-20 and the full-scale roll out of Murphy’s law across the Canary Nation seems to have been noted and we’re now cashing in those credits.
That’s how it feels.
In reality, yesterday’s win had as much to do with a gritty, obdurate and determined team performance that was (once again) epitomised by this big old lump of Dumfries granite that Daniel Farke has embedded in the heart of City’s defence.
If there’s one fixture in the calendar that’s made for Grant Hanley it’s Middlesbrough (a) – at least it is for as long as said Teessiders are managed by one N. Warnock. A day when brawn and fearlessness are just as crucial as skill and technique.
It seems ages ago now, but it was in the early days of the Farke/Webber era that Hanley was brought in following that dreadful 4-0 hammering away at Millwall. Not unsurprisingly, a centre-back pairing of Russell Martin and Marcel Franke was run ragged that day and by way of some drastic but expensive surgery, it was to Tyneside they turned.
A wage structure that through necessity was of the shoestring variety was pushed to its limit to bring the Scot to Norfolk, but while he’s never going to win points for artistic impression it’s proven to be money well spent – even if that hasn’t always looked the case.
In his first season here – the James Maddison season – Hanley played 34 games, which included the best assist ever in that home draw with you-know-who, but since then his time here has been dominated more by injuries than excellence on the pitch.
He was a largely peripheral figure in the Championship winning season, while Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey were the main incumbents, and played a total of just 10 games across the whole campaign.
When called upon, he never let Farke down but that was about it, with an overriding feeling of him never being 100 per cent fit. His season was summed up by the red card he received in the FA Cup game against Portsmouth in one of his rare opportunities to impress.
Injury issues were to plague his Premier League season too, but it was also one that got off to the worst possible start imaginable. A fit Hanley lined up in the opener at Anfield but the season was just seven minutes old when he sliced Divock Origi’s cross into his own net.
That sinking feeling that we and he felt as that ball fizzed past Tim Krul was to become all too familiar in the 12 months that followed, but it was Hanley’s belief that arguably took the biggest hit.
The picture of him with his head in his hands was a difficult one to shake off, as were the online noises citing Hanley as unfit for purpose in the Premier League.
As it transpired it was another injury-affected season for the Scot as City walked the tightrope of rarely having two fit centre-backs. When called upon Hanley did his usual of giving it his all but almost always from the point of playing catch-up in terms of fitness.
If we’ve learned anything over the last three-and-a-bit seasons, it’s that he’s not one who’s able to hit the ground running after a lay-off. We even saw that in the first few games of this season. He needs to be fit, match fit and with minutes under his belt.
Then you have a player. A really good player.
And he’s been driven onto even greater heights by finally having a defensive partner who’s not only cut from similar cloth but who’s crucially left-footed. As a pairing, it works.
Ben Gibson, like Hanley but for different reasons, has been desperately short of game-time over the last couple of seasons and has too taken time to adjust to the tempo of the 2020-21 Championship, but now looks like he’s arrived.
With both of them up to speed and, crucially, fit, I’d argue this is the best, most solid, centre-back pairing we’ve had for the best part of a decade. The type of centre-back pairing that’s the cornerstone of a third clean sheet on the bounce.
A third clean sheet on the bounce! Think about it.
Despite Boro’s clearly defined strength under Warnock being their ability to defend from a rock-solid base, they tested City yesterday and under that type of intensity we’ve all too often wilted.
Not so right now. Not with Tim Krul, Hanley and Gibson literally calling the shots.
And while Krul can lay no direct claim for Boro’s pen being ruled out, there’s no doubting his ability to get in the mind of every penalty-taker he faces, even before the game starts.
His reputation from the spot goes before him and coupled with his ability to find a few carefully chosen words prior to the kick being taken, he’s now become a formidable opponent from 12 yards.
It’s no coincidence that none of the last three penalties he’s faced have counted.
Of course, it takes more than a trio of wise older heads to conjure up a win on Teesside, and while it wasn’t a performance of beauty and there were a few horror shows (sorry Stiepi, I’m looking at you), there was enough quality on show in that second half to earn the points.
Teemu Pukki for Jordan Hugill was, as it turns out, an enforced change but also one that made us a far more effective attacking force. There was no way Pukki, on this occasion, was going to either slip or miss.
So, a fifth consecutive 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, one that brings to an end their 10 league game unbeaten run and inflicts on them their first home defeat of the season.
Oh, and we upset Colin… again. And went top of the league.
Not a bad day.
(Now watch us bomb at Stoke).