Man A: “I’ve missed that so much”.
Man B: “What’s that?”
Man A: “Enjoying a Norwich game”.
The words of two nameless gents who walked alongside me as we turned left out of King Street and into Bracondale on our post-match walk back to begin our respective journeys home.
The words from one mouth but Man A speaks for 25,000.
This is an enjoyable Norwich team to watch. It is dynamic. And in the space of four games it has performed a miracle in reuniting a club that was on its knees, fractured, and directionless.
All of a sudden the off-field stuff that some of us have spent the summer grinding our gears over, and which still lingers, matters little. The only thing that really matters to the supporters of a football club is the football, and when it’s good everything else is just background noise.
But having spent the second half of last season scouring the thesaurus for synonyms of rubbish, it’s only right to laud those in yellow when things are good and heading in a positive direction. And they are.
The transformation brought about by a David Wagner pre-season and some astute summer business has been quite something. This new team is as far removed from the one that didn’t score at Carrow Road for five games and concluded last season with two humiliating defeats against Swansea and already-relegated Blackpool.
“Day and night” was how Simon Lappin compared the then and now. “Chalk and cheese”, said the bloke behind me in the River End. Feel free to add your own idiom.
But they were both right. Even ignoring the fact that this team has found a way to win games, it really is unrecognisable. The pace, the strength, the energy, the intensity. You name it, it’s better.
For several seasons, almost for the duration of the Webber era, we have decried our team’s lack of pace and strength and how susceptible it has been to ‘bullying’ by teams whose raison d’etre is to win the physical battle. But not now.
This popped up on my X timeline (or Twitter as we oldies call it) in the aftermath of yesterday’s game from a Tweeter (or Xer) whose opinion I value and someone not prone to hyperbole:
Lee had nailed it.
Against a Millwall team that prides itself on being horrible to play against and which is the epitome of a Championship opponent against whom wins have to be hard-earned, City won the physical battle before, for 80 minutes, playing the Lions of Zampa Road off the pitch.
Against what could have been a backdrop tinged with negativity – with our Lionesses losing and struggling – Carrow Road bounced and marvelled in equal measure as Wagner’s men produced a performance of energy, rhythm, and purpose.
And it’s not just the new faces who have made the difference, even though they have.
If we include Jonathan Rowe as a newbie – which he effectively is given he didn’t kick a ball in anger for Wagner last season – then five of the starting XI were not here last season, but the six who were here in 2022-23 have responded to the sound of those new voices and the clean slate they have been offered.
Gone are the drooped shoulders, the hiding up, the hesitation, and the clear lack of enjoyment.
The booming voices and cajoling of Shane Duffy and Ashley Barnes have clearly had a huge impact (more on that later) but so too the calming efficiency of Jack Stacey and Christian Fassnacht down that right side, as well as the exuberance, speed, and energy of the indefatigable Rowe.
The other six have bought into it and some. They are not just along for the ride. Every single one – led by skipper Kenny McLean – has upped their level.
And the shape of the team has morphed into one that, from being disjointed and easily exposed, can now soak up pressure and hit teams in transition, while also being comfortable in possession of the ball when opponents sit in a low block and challenge us to break them down.
For that change to have taken place in the space of just three months is down to Wagner and his coaching team, and for that they deserve huge credit. Credit too to those in the recruitment team, led to be fair by Stuart Webber, who identified those new players as the type needed to help oversee a much-needed culture change.
The one big concern we have right now, of course, is that this pleasing equilibrium we have found around this group of players and the tactics they are deploying is that there are still eleven days left in the summer transfer window.
Already mentioned in despatches has been the prospect of Josh Sargent and Kenny McLean hooking up again with Daniel Farke and Leeds, and there can’t be a recruitment team in the Premier League that doesn’t have Gabriel Sara on its radar.
The Brazilian’s numbers, if you’re one for stats, are off the scale compared to his Championship counterparts; so much so, I really wish we could just hide him away until September 2 and pretend to the outside world that he doesn’t exist.
But, as Wagner said in his post-match rounds, if our players are hitting the transfer gossip columns it usually means something decent is happening on the pitch. And it is.
I mentioned earlier the influence that, in particular, Barnes and Duffy are having on those around them and there was a lovely little snapshot of this in the Club’s City View piece from last week’s Carabao Cup win over QPR. Scroll through to 2:05 and 2:39 and you’ll see what I mean.
So, we find ourselves in that odd position of being content and in a good place. The anger of May now seems a thing of the past, and based on what we’ve seen over, admittedly, just four games, there appears to be something building.
It’s not yet perfect – we wouldn’t expect it to be – but if we can get to September 2 and have this group still in place, we still have a genuine shot at being the best team in East Anglia 😉