That City were able to hit three and still find time to miss a penalty on what was, by their own admission, an off night speaks volumes for this iteration of Norwich City.
Cliché time I’m afraid: they found a way.
I tweeted at half-time that I would happily settle for a point and I think most would probably have done the same. It had been a torrid first-half and a fine goal and a rather less-fine missed penalty by Teemu Pukki were interspersed with long spells of hesitancy and lethargy.
An energetic high-press from Aitor Karanka’s men was the very antithesis of their approach at Carrow Road in October, where a couple of parked buses were the order of the day, and if it didn’t take Daniel Farke by surprise, it certainly did me.
And even if Farke’s men had been prepared for said onslaught, it wasn’t obvious.
Birmingham’s opening was of a similar intensity to that of Barnsley’s in the FA Cup a few weeks ago and City struggled to cope. Given the joy had by the Blues for the opening 45 and the Tykes for the full 90, it’s a method of attack that we should expect to see repeated over the next 14 games.
Christoph Zimmermann, in particular, struggled both in and out of possession but was far from alone, as the Karanka plan of doing anything and everything to stop City from hitting those pleasing passing rhythms worked perfectly.
There were a few glimpses of the City we recognise but generally it was Birmingham in the ascendency and asking the questions. The St Andrew’s surface of which the Canaries made light just one week ago suddenly became a minefield, with every bobble and mis-control being seized upon.
Even on iFollow it was possible to distinguish some harsh, disgruntled Germanic tones being launched from pitchside.
Alex Neil used to refer to it as a “wee chat”. Well, halftime at St Andrew’s last night was host to the German equivalent. Ein kleines Gespräch, perhaps?
But whatever it was and whatever it was called, it worked.
While the St Andrew’s pitch didn’t undergo a half-time transformation, the reminder of the need for more steel and intensity out of possession rendered it flatter and more playable. The bobbles became less frequent; the mis-controls barely existent.
And the tempo. Up at least two gears.
While the Blues will point to the fortunate deflection into the path of Pukki for City’s second goal, it’s no coincidence that the Finn regularly finds himself on the receiving end of these opportunities – think Elland Road, February 2019.
Whether it be instinct or the sixth sense of a goalscorer, no-one does it better, and Farke’s post-match point that Pukki rarely chips in with meaningless goals in big wins or consolations is a good one (aside from the fact we rarely do big wins). It feels like every goal matters and when the stakes are at their highest, the Finn delivers.
The contribution of Onel Hernandez was also significant. Bumpy surfaces and opponents determined to deny time and space is an unhealthy combo in Vrancic world and it was a tough night for the Bosnian. The extra energy and power offered by the Cuban, with Todd Cantwell dropping into the 10 role, added something extra, including Onel doing the groundwork for the second goal.
But it wasn’t just the tactical tweaks. It was those extra two gears.
The third goal may have added a little unwarranted pizzazz to the scoreline but in itself was a thing of beauty. Rarely in the modern game do we get these Charge of the Light Brigade moments but when they happen and when it’s your own doing the charging they’re glorious.
Glorious too was the unselfishness of Lukas Rupp as he sprinted half the length of the pitching before zigging to Ollie Skipp rather than zagging to Jordan Hugill.
That feeling of relief mixed with joy mixed with finally being able to finally breathe again was quite something, and was summed up perfectly by said Cuban:
So, for 24 hours at least we go ten points clear, and if the stats, graphs and comparisons with seasons gone by are anything to go by, it bodes well for those who dream of a return to that Promised Land.
For those that prefer life in the Championship… sorry.
But, for those of the latter persuasion, there remains hope. A lot can happen in 14 games and as Birmingham proved for 45 minutes last night that a few chinks can appear in the armour if the press is organised and executed with energy.
And the banana skins keep on coming with Wycombe’s home win over Reading last night acting as a timely reminder that in the wacky world of the Championship anything is possible.
But, spin it however you like, both the title and promotion are now City’s to lose.