This was 2018-19 revisited. Attacking thrust with a Finn and an Argentinian at its heart interspersed with with some heart-stopping defensive scares, mostly of City’s own making.
And my god it was fun.
That’s not to say it was either part of Daniel Farke’s plan or is something we should yearn for a return to, but to hit four on a day when the pressure gauge was tipping 11 and against a side who are the division’s draw specialists was certainly not to be sniffed at.
Yet rocket science it wasn’t.
Plonk one of the best players ever to wear the yellow and green back into that midfield, offer him the freedom to roam, get some fresh bodies and minds around him and voila.
Of course, we all refute suggestions that we’re a one-man-team because that’s a daft expression in the first place, but when you have Emi Buendia on your roster, without him in the team you’re naturally less creative, less potent and less of a threat to your opposition.
We can naval gaze, hand-wring and pontificate on where it’s going wrong until the cows come home, but we all know why we looked like potential promotees yesterday and anything but against Swansea and Millwall.
Yet a team of Emi Buendias, as entertaining a prospect as that may be, wouldn’t win games of football. It takes a blend to make a football team, or any team come to that, and with every Argentinian maestro, there has to be some ballast there to help provide him with a platform.
For ballast read Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson and Oliver Skipp; the first two of whom both had hhmm kind of days yesterday, the latter of whom had arguably his best-ever outing in a City shirt.
That Hanley and Gibson both had uncomfortable moments during an afternoon of locking horns and elbows with Steven Fletcher was partly what turned it into a 2018-19 vintage – although in that regard they were also ably assisted by Messrs Giannoulis and McLean – but the shield offered by Skipp was of a different level.
Chris Goreham spoke during commentary of there being no greater compliment for Skipp than his performance levels giving Alex Tettey barely a sniff of Championship action, and he was right. Yet what the Tottenham loanee has also done is add value to that role.
No longer just the destroyer, his comfort on the ball and ability to burst forward into any space afforded him has transformed that key role in the side into something better; an attacking force as well as one designed to frustrate and protect.
His role in Todd Cantwell’s goal – picking the ball up from Gibson inside our own 18-yard box and driving to half-way – was a perfect example, but just one of many on an afternoon when, without being especially eye-catching, he was pretty much foot perfect.
That Jacob Sorensen’s audition for that very same role is ticking along very nicely thank you is helpful because, as much as it pains me to say it, Jose Mourinho would be mad not to give Skipp a chance to operate in that stuttering Tottenham midfield next season.
As things stand, there is a real possibility that the majority of City fans will never get to witness Oliver Skipp playing in a City shirt first hand, and that in itself is a real shame… for him and for us.
(If de Pfeffel could, for once, get something right and somehow enable us to see a few minutes of the Skipp in all his Norwich City glory that would be at least something to cling to.)
But it wasn’t just the Emi and Ollie show, as outstanding as those two were. Todd Cantwell, and some of his most vocal supporters, used his fine afternoon’s work as an opportunity to sshh a few of his doubters and, I guess, if that’s what it takes for him to deliver performances of that ilk then so be it.
I’d prefer it if, as the saying goes, he did his talking on the pitch but if the trade-off is a worldie as witnessed at 3:15 pm yesterday then it will be worth the odd cringe.
Even better was that he was finishing off a move that was Farkeball personified, starting with some sphincter-twitching wizardry between Tim Krul and his centre-backs that would have had the River End fuming.
From there it was beautiful and of a type we witnessed in clips on Twitter and Insta throughout the Championship winning season and which was briefly trialled in the Premier League in the home game against Man City.
The fluidity, the perfectly weighted passing, the movement, the precision.
That Todd was able to round it off with a dropped shoulder, an Ali shuffle and a zinger of a left-foot strike past poor Angus was perfect.
And not only did it gift City the rarity of an early goal, it settled the angst and doubts that Team Farke had spent the week at Colney trying to dispel. From thereon in it flowed, as did the belief and confidence.
The second was all about Emi, with three touches, starting with a block tackle, that were made to look effortless but were anything but. The cushioned header into his own path and then the perfectly weighted half-volleyed pass to Teemu Pukki were works of footballing art of which only he is capable.
The embrace that followed may not have satisfied the ‘modest goal celebration’ guidelines but was heartfelt and understandable.
Thankfully, the harum-scarum defending (cheers @huckerbysbarber) with which City opened the second-half did little more than set us on the edge of our seats for a short while, and it’s to Dimitris Giannoulis’ huge credit that it took him just three minutes to clear his head between aberration and assist.
The perfectly timed burst and clever pass to Buendia said a lot about the Greek international’s mental resolve; something that will serve him well in the white heat of Championship battle.
Pukki’s second of the afternoon, from the penalty spot after the mildest of spats with Emi, was the cherry on top.
So, the ship has been steadied and, for the first time since beating QPR at home in 2018-19, City have scored four times at home; a notable milestone given the paucity of comfortable wins this season, especially against a side, however limited, who have only lost twice away from home.
Maybe now we can all just calm down a little? I did only say maybe.
While you’re here…
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