October 29, 2022, seems an age ago. A lot has happened since then in the life of Norwich City.
That was the last time City won at home. Ironically, it too was a 3-1 win, but it was peak Smudgerball – passive, scrappy, and uninspiring – and ended a run of six games without a win.
My post-match piece was entitled Well, it was a win… which I believe (for once) was a fairly accurate summation of events. For the record, it was the same week in which a loose-tongued bloke from the club’s finance department laughed off any notion of a disconnect between the club and the fans.
Thankfully, last night’s 3-1 left us in a rather happier place.
While there is no sign of a thaw between the local press and the club, or indeed the club perceiving the fans as anything other than a pain in the butt, the David Wagner factor has lightened the mood considerably, and there was a genuine sense of enjoyment in the air last night. A rarity.
Ultimately, it boils down to the performance of the team and the hunger on display, and yesterday evening we were delivered both. A far cry from the lack lustre efforts witnessed at Ashton Gate.
This wasn’t, of course, the first good performance we’ve seen since the German arrived – the performances at Deepdale and the CBS Arena were both thrilling in their own way – but this differed in that it was the first that had Wagner’s stamp all over it.
The intensity. The high tempo. The stifling high press. The undiluted effort.
Going way back to Wagner’s first game in charge at Huddersfield, their players spoke afterwards of burning legs, bursting lungs, and of them blowing up by the time the clock had ticked 70 minutes, but until last night, there had been little evidence of any physical exertions on that scale at City.
But against Hull, it was there in all its glory. There’ll be some aching limbs at Colney this morning.
The relentlessness of the closing down and the coordinated hunting in packs was really good for the whole 90, and paid dividends, particularly in the second half when the Hull legs started to go.
All against the backdrop of the incessant City Elite drum. Carrow Road responded.
We were helped by a Hull City team that was poor although, as ever, it’s hard to gauge if their paucity was a direct result of our City not allowing them to play. Either way, theirs was a performance of stink-the-place-out proportions, which oddly didn’t include a high press to pressurise our back four.
We still found time for the now customary defensive screw-up – Angus mistaking Grant Hanley’s head for the ball – and that familiar here-we-go-again feeling came over the place as Jacob Greaves’s shot nested in the net.
Our record of coming from behind has been well documented – just six points earned from losing positions – and so for the equaliser to arrive just four minutes after Greaves’ goal was massive.
While Kieran Dowell’s finish was via a big deflection, it was borne of the slick type of front-footed football that Wagner demands.
The initial hold-up play from Dowell, using the strength that’s not always evident in his game, was finished with a nicely weighted pass to Onel Hernandez, and then the scampering, twisting, and turning began.
This was Onel at his finest – low centre of gravity, determined, bamboozling – but was concluded on this occasion with a lovely, precise cut-back; the very element that’s so often missing from his game.
Not this time.
It was the first productive moment of what must surely have been one of Hernandez’s finest-ever shifts in the yellow shirt. While he may not possess the finesse and technical qualities of others, in terms of his effort and appetite for the game, he’s an exemplar of what his new head coach requires.
No one can ever doubt how much it means to Onel to pull on that shirt, and that’s why he’s loved in these parts.
The bobbing and weaving was evident again for Gabriel Sara’s goal, but there was still plenty left for the Brazilian to do after he received Hernandez’s pass. That he was able to stroke it into the corner of the net with such ease was a sign of the quality he possesses – quality we are gradually seeing more of.
Like Onel, Sara’s shift last night was up there with his best in yellow, and his ability to get box-to-box while linking up with the equally excellent Kenny McLean and those in front of him was outstanding on the night.
Again, this all occurred against the backdrop of Hull giving them the time and space to play, but let’s not forget that we’ve dropped points against plenty of ordinary teams so far this season.
Wagner’s call to leave Teemu Pukki out was a brave one but he’ll feel a 3-1 win with Josh Sargent scoring a goal and Adam Idah looking very lively, vindicates his decision.
Quite where that leaves a 32-year-old Pukki, who’s out of contract at the end of the season, in the short to medium term, only time will tell, but it does feel a little early to be viewing this as a changing of the guard.
Any late playoff charge needs a Teemu Pukki as part of it.
But the Finn’s services weren’t required last night and it still ended up being a good one. It was only the sixth time the home faithful has seen a win this season and, in the circumstances, couldn’t have been more welcome.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 136 days for the next one.