We knew it wouldn’t be one for the lily-livered. Games at Millwall never are.
Add in the scent of promotion the Lions of Zampa Road have in their nostrils and what greeted City and the 3000 was precisely what we expected: a maelstrom of testosterone and hostility.
That City emerged from it with three points says a lot about the impact David Wagner and his coaching team have had on this group.
All too often, given the above scenario, they would have wilted under the pressure, been cowed by the occasion and, as a result, returned to NR1 bruised and pointless.
But yesterday they stood tall even after going a goal down.
Of course, there was the almost-mandatory defensive screw-up that led to Millwall taking the lead – a Hanley/Gibson combo of some distinction – but, for once, the reaction to going a goal down was a positive one.
That all-too-familiar sense of here we go again was not there yesterday. Neither were the hung heads, the drooping shoulders and the thousand-yard stares. Instead, there was something that bore a striking resemblance to determination, steel, and grit – three Championship must-haves.
With a midfield that had been deliberately fortified by the inclusion of Jacob Sørensen at the expense of more creative options, they stood firm as the Lions, roared on by 15,000 fired-up locals, looked to further up the tempo and add to their lead.
Burke went close to doing so when he whistled one past Angus’s right-hand post but that was the signal for City to start taking some control.
That extra body in the centre of the pitch enabled City to not get swamped and outnumbered, and the energy and oomph that Gary Rowett demands of his men were matched in a way not in keeping with City performances of the last season-and-a-half.
And having gained a foothold in the game that for the opening 20 minutes looked unattainable, they gradually made inroads.
Teemu Pukki, straddled on either wing by Onel Hernandez and Adam Idah, started to see more of the ball and from that solid midfield base, they started to keep the ball better.
And then it happened. A goal from a pre-planned set piece!
We were to learn afterwards that (irony of ironies) the setpiece coach brought in by Dean Smith, Allan Russell, was mysteriously absent from The Den yesterday and, instead, it was Andy Hughes who took the plaudits of the players for goals one and two.
That Wagner was reluctant to discuss Russell’s absence suggests… I’m not sure what. Time will tell.
But it was great to see us score from not one but two rehearsed setpieces – the first a lovely crisp strike from Sørensen from the edge of the box after a charge of the Light Brigade had led the Millwall giants back into their own six-yard box, and the second a short-corner routine designed specifically to free Hernandez to crash the ball into the legs of Tom Bradshaw (I jest).
Both worked as per the graphics on the Hughes iPad.
The third goal owed less to pre-planned routines and more to some good old South American spontaneity. Not for the first time, Hernandez showed Murray Wallace a clean pair before using his newly discovered composure in the final third to pick out Gabriel Sara.
The swivel and the perfect left-foot strike into the roof of George Long’s net was the type that will pop up on the radar of many a Premier League recruitment team, as will an overall performance of class and energy from the Brazilian.
Millwall were never going to lie down though – no way were the locals letting that happen – and it was no surprise when they pulled one back, albeit the freebie offered to Zian Flemming won’t have been lost on Wagner.
With seven minutes left we anticipated The Alamo and weren’t disappointed. But the resistance was strong. They didn’t buckle and on the one occasion that Angus was beaten, Hanley popped up on the line to make a game-saving block. That the rebound fell straight into Gunn’s arms indicated it was going to be our day.
So… three points and from one of the sternest tests the Championship has to offer. The Lions hadn’t lost at home since September and along the way had taken two points off Burnley and all three off Sheffield United.
That we triumphed where those two had not must say something about the progress made in the last few weeks – progress so eye-catching that FIFA president Gianni Infantino decided that of all the games available to him in Europe over the weekend, Bermondsey was to be his destination (either that or he was lured by the promise of a brown envelope).
Either way, he picked a good one … one almost as good as the 3-2 City away win in 1989, remembered for Robert Fleck’s spectacular winner.
I’m loathed to shout about it too loudly, but we appear to be on quite a good run.
That we’re now in the top six suggests an interesting couple of months await – even if I’m not quite sure why we’re getting excited at the prospect of making it to the playoffs and therefore slightly closer to promotion.
But, for now at least, harmony appears to have broken out.
If I may be a little cheeky I’m posting a thought. How many of the Canary nation want us to go up this season .?
I recognise the imperative of the financial boost we would get, but being the weekly whipping boys for the greed is good league , appealing ???.
Still Wagner did keep The Terriors up.
Derek P says
I absolutely want us to go up if we can. As a supporter, I aspire for us to be in the best league we can be and to pit ourselves up against the best. And just because we failed miserably on the 2 previous occasions, doesn’t mean we can’t get it right next time.
I’m fully on board with DW at the wheel. Just imagine if the Board hadn’t dithered and we had made the inevitable change earlier…
Once you stop going forward you speed up the rate you are moving backwards!
Jim Davies says
I’m getting seriously concerned that Sara is looking so good that he will inevitably become a transfer target, whether we get promoted or not.
I think we were lucky that they got the first goal – if Gibson had made contact when he lunged in on Bradshaw, it probably would have been a red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity, and we’d have been struggling with 10 men against a Millwall bombardment for most of the game.
I’m sure Mr Infantino came for his love of real football, with no hint of a brown envelope. 😉😉😉😂😂😂
Love the “we were lucky they got the first goal”- that’s inverted pessimism, surely?!!
Excellent summary and in most reports Sorensen was a 9 along with Sara.
Seems Wagner sees something that others have missed hopefully he will be our midfield linchpin for some time to come.
Hanley again at the heart of defence read the game well to be in the right place for that clearance
A good all round team preformance no one let the side down.
A most welcome win on the Road and a heartening Sunday read.
The new character traits of grit, determination and being able to stand up to overly physical tactics encouraged in the main by a weak referee were all on display.
The first 20 minutes and the keystone kop goal concession were all rather reminiscent of the previous managers reign. As Kenny said last week, once Gabby gets to grips with the game so do we. Truly a class above the opposition and in all probability the best player in the league on current form and yes, a big concern that Delia will be up to her old tricks again.
Wagner appears to be able to fit a specific role to a players individual skill set within the framework of the team. Hence the total transformation evident in many of the players. The tweaks to formation added size and strength to the team and idah and sorensen stood up to the task.
I’m intrigued and more than a little excited
Interesting that there are fewer comments when we win
Gary Gowers says
Hi Graham… hope you’re well.
Was ever thus. 😊
MYSTIC KEV says
Agree its all delias and webber fault when we lose !
That’s a good win and a nice league position to go with it, exciting stuff!
A couple of great goals from Sorensen and Sara, and one fortuitous one, the way Hernandez is playing it’d be nice to see him score a few as well, and it would be well-deserved he’s really shown us how good his game is over the last few months.
The game against Sunderland will be interesting, if we win that one too things could get really big and dynamic around Carrow Road.
The NCFC squad is looking more than capable of achieving success when well managed.
I‘m walking around with a smile on my face again, the wife is getting suspicious and think I‘m up to no good. She‘s not convinced the Canaries could have improved so much in such a short time.
Wonderful comment. The best pithy set of words since I have been lurking on this site!