I am starting to take this David Wagner geezer just a little bit seriously. Since arriving in early January his record stands at:
Played 9: Won 6: Drawn 1: Lost 2: Goals for 19: Goals against 10: GD +9: Points 19.
But that record is not the only reason I am ever-warming to our new American-German manager. Oh no.
Wagner has just produced the result, if not quite the performance, of his short tenure with a characterful 3-2 win at Zampa Road SE16, where many mortals fear to tread.
If they are not intimidated by the Anfield-like This is the Lions’ Den sign in the players’ tunnel they will be by the time they have reached their designated warm-up area by the acceleration in noise from the crowd, who are not by any means imaginable enquiring of the visitors if they would like a cup of tea and a slice of cake.
But we coped admirably and managed to blend flair and steel in a completely different way to that of the Daniel Farke era and that is just the type of football that I [and I’m sure many others among us] appreciate.
We had a poor start when Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson contrived in the most pantomime of manners to allow Tom Bradshaw through to beat Angus Gunn with ease and aplomb. Several supporters played the blame game afterwards but I’d have to put it down as equally poor defending from both, not forgetting an intelligent header through to Bradshaw from Zian Flemming.
As has been said before by the Mayor, the more Gaby Sara moves up a gear the more we start to exert an effective influence in midfield. During this period of dominance, a corner was won on the Millwall left and probably created the talking point of the match.***
City advanced in a line reminiscent of Wellington’s Redcoats of old and taking Millwall with them while Sara calmly laid the ball back for Sorensen to sidefoot home through a crowded area. Millwall keeper George Long would probably have kept it out if he had been properly sighted and there hadn’t been a slight deflection from a bemused defender as the ball reached its intended target.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Millwall starting the stronger, but Norwich soon regained the ascendency and a short Sorensen corner to Onel Hernandez saw our Cuban international fire into the box where the unfortunate Bradshaw inadvertently backheeled past the stricken Long.
Then came the cushion of a 3-1 lead with a decent candidate for runner-up to Marcelino Nunez’s Goal of the Season winner.
Hernandez acquired his second assist of the match when he made a trademark run down the right. His cross fell just behind Sara, whose improvisation was a joy to watch as he flicked the ball with his right foot, pivoted and fired home one of the juiciest volleys you’ll ever see.
Being Norwich we allowed Millwall the sight of a chink of light at the door when Flemming rose highest to a corner to power his header past Gunn but although it took a late crucial goal-line block from Hanley to ensure the points came back along the A11 on the team coach we did more than enough for a completely deserved win.
And it is no small feat to have inflicted the first defeat on Millwall at The Den since September. This was not lost on Wagner, who said afterwards:
“We started not at our best. The occasion, the atmosphere, was very, very intense. We conceded a very avoidable goal and one we’d worked on the whole week – how we would defend these situations. The mistakes that happened in this situation should not happen but they [the players] are humans. How we reacted was great.
“We played for periods some very good football in difficult circumstances here. We created good opportunities and scored wonderful goals. [That] we brought it over the line with this commitment, attitude, fighting spirit and togetherness was great. Psychologically it is another important win for us.”
The inclusion of Sorensen and a fit-again Teemu Pukki for Nunez and Marquinhos proved itself to be a very shrewd decision. If Wagner decides to adopt a policy of “horses for courses” in certain games I feel he has stolen a march on Farke, who very rarely [if ever] did that apart from a not-too-successful experiment with a back three that I don’t think was ever to be repeated. (Don’t fret Daniel, I still love you too!)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s fleeting 45-minutes at the New Den got a light-hearted mention from Wagner who reckoned he missed the best of the action by leaving early while Millwall manager Gary Rowett added: “I don’t know the reason he came – maybe he has heard about the atmosphere here.”
Half a visit was a kind of back-handed compliment to the EFL I suppose [see what I did there?]
***Allow me to return to the talking point that eventually expanded to include two City goals from corners, their unexpected creator and the whereabouts of our current set piece coach, Alan Russell.
Scorer from one corner and taker of the other Jacob Lungi Sorensen said:
“Credit to Hughesy [Andy Hughes] who found these two routines. We’ve been working on it and we said that we need to score from more set pieces.”
“We have only scored two this season and have added two more now. We need to keep working on them. I think these patterns can work for other teams as well. We thought about it and didn’t want to just kick it long to their two central defenders.
“We worked on it [the routine for his goal]. To be fair, it didn’t work out quite so well in training so I’m glad to see it work well here. The pass was good in training but not the kick.”
And there was me thinking that the *leave one on the edge of the box while the others move forward late* was first described in the Herbert Chapman Coaching Manual [1934 edition]. But there’s nothing like an old trick that works maybe once in a decade or so, eh, Andrew
I suppose we can read what we like into the lack of presence from Russell. The club are saying zilch at the moment so we’ll have to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey until somebody tells us something. If there is anything to tell, of course.
Finally, I’d like to congratulate Jordan Hugill on his brace for Rotherham and Carlton Morris on yet another goal for our close rivals Luton, this time against Russell “Fisticuffs” Martin’s faltering Swansea City.
As MFW is a family publication I will keep my thoughts on the guy with the season-ending injury racing half the length of the pitch to score the first of a personal pair against Reading. I can’t remember his name just now but I think he’s got a brother called Jacob who plays for Aston Villa?
My phrase flair and steel is very similar to the spirit of the name of this band. Enjoy: