“That was a tough ol’ go, Boy!”
The words of Mr Derek Gowers (aka Dad) on the phone to Gower Junior at around 5pm yesterday.
As ever, he nailed in one small sentence what I struggle to do in 800 words. It was indeed a tough ol’ go, in every sense, but that City came through it as those around them floundered made the ugliest of wins something quite significant.
In Norwich City terms, it was almost the perfect weekend, although any references to a famous Danish brand of lager are banned.
Credit to Rotherham. Their intended aim of turning this into a physical battle was achieved and in doing so, City’s additional quality on the ball was rendered ineffective for long spells. In the battle of muscle and endeavour, the Millers edged it, hence the second-half taking what seemed like hours rather than 52 minutes.
With Brentford having already lost and Swansea’s doing the unexpected at the John Smith’s Stadium, the value of the three points increased as the afternoon wore on and it was with relief rather than ecstasy that referee Tony Harrington’s final whistle was greeted in NR1.
It was of course one of those afternoon’s in which City have specialised this season: a single-goal win that could have been made so much more comfortable if a second had been forthcoming.
It didn’t and it wasn’t.
Thankfully though we have an Argentinian and a Finn in our ranks who in my pantheon of double acts are up there with Vic and Bob. Believe me, that is praise indeed.
For the umpteenth time this season, it was a perfectly-weighted Emi through-ball that sent Pukki racing clear into acres of space, and now that we have our old Teemu back the ending was never in doubt.
As he approached Viktor Johansson, the head was clear and the connection was true. Vintage Pukki.
The key to a tension-free afternoon was obviously the second goal, but every missed chance – and I’m especially looking at you Mr Vrancic – the belief and resolve in the Rotherham ranks grew. On Wednesday night against Coventry, that key moment came on the stroke of half-time when Emi-Teemu made it 2-0.
Yesterday, faced with only a one-goal deficit and with raw meat replacing energy drinks in the Rotherham dressing room at half-time, the second period was St Andrew’s revisited with added incentive and oomph.
It became the type of battle that Warne wanted and which Daniel Farke had tried to avoid; one where the tackles were flying in thick and fast and where muscle trumped technique. In other words, standard Championship fare.
Fortunately for us, this iteration of Norwich City is bettered equipped than most of the recent versions to cope with opponents who want to put it up ’em. While it may not be City’s own modus operandi, the Championship is full of teams who specialise in it, Rotherham being one of the finest exponents of said art.
In terms of artistic impression, yesterday was more Terry Hurlock than Maradona but putting bodies on the line and doing the ugly stuff is an art form all of its own and City did it well. Max Aarons lunge to block Matt Crooks’ goalbound effort was the best example but there were loads of others.
Christoph Zimmermann deserves a mention too given his late inclusion, and despite a few understandable wobbles given his lack of game time, he now has another clean to his name as part of a City back-four.
While he may lack the grace of Ben Gibson and is less comfortable in starting the Farkeball rolling from deep, in that most basic footballing requirement of defending he provides solid and reliable back-up.
Both full-backs, in addition to Max’s heroics, also did their fair share of the ugly stuff too and, of course, Grant Hanley did Grant Hanley things when the flak was flying and leadership was needed. And in an attacking sense, Dimitris Giannoulis’ Aarons impression is coming along very nicely down that left flank.
And Tim Krul. Nothing to add.
So, a seven-point lead that will now still remain a lead even if Swansea win their much-fabled games in hand and, out of the blue, Watford emerge from the pack as potentially our most dangerous challengers.
Three wins out of three for the Hornets – matched by ourselves, a Carlton Morris-inspired Barnsley, QPR, and Big Mick’s Cardiff – has propelled them into the heart of the promotion hunt and player-for-player they do look the best equipped of the bunch to take it all the way.
But let’s not get carried away. Swansea and Brentford are going nowhere either, although the 15-point gap we have opened up between ourselves and Bournemouth pleases me immensely.
If the Cherries can close that gap with 15 games to go then fair play – they will have more than earned automatic promotion!
Back in the real world, the one-game-at-a-time adage, however tedious, is the only way to proceed. Talk of squad-strengthening ahead of a return to the Premier League is well and truly premature, even though Canary Callers are suggesting otherwise.
Believe it or not, Stuart Webber will have already thought about this.
Final word to my dad, as has been the case for the past 86 years.
‘Well, I’m happy. I don’t care if they did make hard work of it – it was a win. Seven points clear with 15 to go and Ipswich only drew at home. I’ll enjoy the rest of my weekend now!”
He’s a good ol’ boy.