Three home wins in a row! Who saw that coming?
Again we flitted, in the space of 93 minutes, between the beauty and the beast, but amid it all there was sufficient good stuff to score two good goals and enough of the ugly side to grind out a clean sheet.
The range between our upper and lower levels of performance is still much wider than David Wagner would like but when you’re winning no one cares.
Talking of low levels of performance, yesterday’s opening 20 minutes took some beating but, as Wagner said afterwards, key to the win was that during that period of struggle, they held firm. For once, despite passes aplenty going astray, no big chances were coughed up.
While Cardiff looked bright and breezy in that opening 20, aided by the freshness that comes with having had no midweek game, they lacked the quality to capitalise on that spell of dominance.
Having ridden out that difficult opening spell, the game gradually swung in City’s favour. At its core was the midfield partnership of Kenny McLean and Gabriel Sara, who, game-by-game, are both becoming more comfortable in the tweaked roles in which Wagner is playing them.
Both have been asked to do things that fit nicely within their skillset – McLean as the deep-lying quarterback and Sara as more of the box-to-box man but with licence to drop off and pick a pass when the opportunity is there.
And when it works, it works nicely.
What is clear is that both are now acutely aware of their roles within this system and with that comes the aforementioned comfort. While the Scot provides the ballast, the Brazilian offers the full gamut of skills required for a central midfielder.
And it was the latter, with McLean’s support, who pulled us up by our bootstraps and led us out of that troubling opening spell.
All of a sudden there were more touches of the ball, simpler passes, switches of play, and from it emerged a rhythm which is invariably there when things start to click. The ball gets zipped rather than deliberately rolled from A to B and everything happens a couple of beats quicker.
It was probably no coincidence that Marquinhos, on debut, grew into the game as Sara gradually exerted his influence on it. He’s just 19, it was all a bit frantic and twitchy, and for those 20 minutes, he must have been questioning this particular, temporary, career choice.
To see his fellow Brazilian take charge and offer a few comforting words of Portuguese won’t have done any harm. Neither will watching said fellow Brazilian fizz one in the corner of the Birmingham net from 20 yards.
The second goal, just four minutes later, effectively wrapped up the points for City.
It was from Marquinhos’ pass that Sara scored the first, but this time it was the Arsenal loanee who prospered from a clever assist when he swept home Onel Hernandez’s clever cut-back after the Cuban had done some of his trademark bobbing and weaving.
Goal-shy Cardiff were never coming back from 2-0 down and while City’s performance level dropped off in the second half, it wasn’t one of those days when it felt almost inevitable that we’d find a way to allow our opponents back into the game.
Even amid a stuttering and staccato second period, several more-than-presentable chances came and went, with Adam Idah finding the Barclay rather than the back of the net after rounding the keeper, Hernandez hitting a post, Christos Tzolis sliding one wide and Teemu Pukki gently landing a chip on the roof of Ryan Allsop’s net.
A third would have been nice but it mattered not. It was overall, as described by Kenny McLean, “a professional performance, not a good performance”. But it did the job.
We’re now four unbeaten and have picked up ten points from the last 12 available, and all while being unable to find anything like top gear. Perspective is needed though. Those four teams were Hull, Wigan, Birmingham and Cardiff or, to put it another way, 16th, 24th, 19th, and 21st.
The last time we said to ourselves, ‘our next game will be a good barometer of where we’re now at’ Burnley played us off the park and beat us 3-0.
But… our next game will be a good barometer of where we’re now at.
Millwall (a) is a proper tester on any day, but when the fifth-placed Lions are on a promotion charge and have the scent of blood in their nostrils…
The Den will be no place for the faint-hearted. And certainly no place for the lily-livered.
I’ve questioned the mental toughness of this group several times over the course of the season (and been told off for it) but would love nothing more than to have egg on my face at 5pm next Saturday.
If City can emerge successfully from the type of examination only Zampa Road can provide, then fair play. And our own promotion charge will then officially be in full swing.
I didn’t see this coming after Bristol City away. I’m not sure many of us did.
But things are starting to get interesting.
Oh, meant to say, is there anything more Norwich City than having a day when our two goals are scored by two Brazilians but there’s no PA to play Samba De Janeiro. 😀
In case you missed it…