Ten days into the Dean Smith regime, for me, his second team selection was always going to be more telling than his first.
Would the likes of Todd Cantwell have suitably impressed the new man in a week on the pitches of Colney? Does Hanley keep his place in defence? The questions were answered and the team ran out, unchanged from the second half at Southampton.
City started in a positive fashion, pressing Wolves in their own half as they had done the previous week – clearly something we can expect more of in the weeks to come. Early signs also pointed to the long diagonal ball being the chosen way out of the Wolves press, Gibson looking for Rashica, the ball skidding out of play, then Sargent who did well, battling and kept the ball in play before his cross went out for a corner.
More changes were evident at the set-piece as the City players huddled together on the penalty spot before Hanley spun away, but this week he planted a free header well over the bar.
It took about 10 minutes for the visitors to establish themselves in the game, and when they did so it was with some style. They began to take control of the midfield, passing and probing, switching the ball quickly from flank to flank in an effort to unpick the City defence. But City under Smith look a different proposition to the same players only a few weeks ago. They tackled, chased and harried with vigour, Williams, in particular, making a number of excellent interceptions, and the combined efforts meant that Wolves barely registered a goal threat.
Despite the period of Wolves possession, City still created chances with Rashica proving to be a handful all afternoon. Both Pukki and Sargent were guilty of taking a half-touch too many and finding their subsequent shots foiled. After 22 minutes, Normann spent a prolonged period sitting on the turf, shaking his head whilst under the attention of the physio. He was able to rejoin the action but lasted only another 10 minutes before being replaced by Lukas Rupp.
By the half-hour mark, City had begun to impose themselves on the game once again. Gilmour had dropped into the deep-lying role vacated by Normann, but was protected by the effervescent McLean and the tidy, efficient Rupp and able to dictate the pace of the game in a manner not previously seen in a yellow shirt.
A quick interchange resulted in Pukki playing Sargent through but the American somehow conspired to miss kick when in a superb position.
It is a measure of the effectiveness of the City shape that the only chance Wolves really had came from City errors. First Gilmour misplayed a square pass in the torrential rain and had to be bailed out, almost literally, by Rupp. Then Hanley somehow ran himself into a corner, tried a clever turn, failed and played a hospital pass to Krul. The Dutchman’s hurried clearance came straight back at him but he saved with his legs.
The chance of the half, and possibly the game, came on the stroke of halftime. Aarons was free on the right. He cut inside with a cute trick and powered towards the penalty area where he exchanged a 1-2 with Rupp to put him through on the keeper. Unfortunately, his effort was parried.
The question was, could City continue the good work in the second half. The answer. Yes they could, and some.
They upped the intensity, the work rate, and never allowed the visitors to settle. Time and time again they won 50-50 balls in the midfield, or anticipated the sweeping diagonal balls as Wolves tried to get behind them. And once they got possession, Wolves found it difficult to get it back.
A frequent criticism of the Farke era was of ‘tippy tappy football’ that got nowhere. This was a very different game. Whilst still more than happy to go backwards or across the pitch, there seemed to be a purpose about the passing and movement; a world away from those dire 20 minutes against Leeds that probably cost the likeable German his job.
On another day, City could have had three or four goals. Pukki was only a meaningful touch away on several occasions, the ball not quite running for the Finn. Encouraging though was the number of balls played through and across the pitch that found him in space.
Rupp had a turn and shot that was blocked. Rashica hit a shot straight at the keeper. Wolves were like a boxer clinging on to his opponent, desperate to avoid further blows.
Smith brought Tzolis on after 65 minutes to replace Sargent. The American youngster had done well, using his strength and pace to good effect, and defended well too, but still needs a bit more composure when he gets towards the penalty box.
Tzolis was immediately into the action, starting a great move on the right. Possession was recycled and ended up with Rashica on the left whose curling cross just ran away from Pukki.
Wolves only mustered a few decent attacks, the closest they came was a weak shot straight at Krul, who had a quiet afternoon by recent standards.
Dowell replaced the excellent Rashica on 81 minutes, the Kosovan building on his performance against Southampton and really showing why so many clubs were watching him. Whilst his output is poor in terms of goals and assists, he was a constant danger on the break with his pace, surely one of the reasons why Webber was prepared to spend so freely on him.
For the last 10 minutes, Carrow Road rocked and roared in a way that has not been heard since Bats infected the world, but even the Y’army were unable to force a result against a Wolves team that had been towards the top of the form table in recent weeks.
Ask me at 2 o’clock and I would have taken a point. Yet by 5, I was disappointed. City deserved three points and could have, should have taken them.
Dean Smith has galvanized the players, energized them and organized them such that they no longer looked out of place and off the pace. If City continue to play like this, and are relegated, then so be it. At least we will have given it our best shot.
However, if they do indeed continue to play like this, then there is every chance that they will achieve what seemed impossible only a few short weeks ago.