Well, it was a win.
And when you’ve slid unceremoniously into a relegation battle you can’t be too sniffy over how you earn your points – especially three against a team that is below you in the table.
In that regard it was job done, and for another week those in power are spared any uncomfortable conversations around the future of David Wagner. If Delia and Michael are giving the head coach, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got your back’ phone calls after a run of one win in nine, they are hardly likely to change their minds after two wins in two.
I suspect, regardless of what any of us think, those two wins have provided enough credits in the bank to keep Wagner in situ for the foreseeable. But, equally, if this is the future, then it’s not one that’s about to set the pulse racing.
It’s clear why Wagner did what he did. They were haemorrhaging goals at such an alarming rate, that it became almost impossible for them to win a game without scoring two or three goals, so something clearly had to change.
But let’s just hope going forward they are able to strike a better solidity/entertainment balance, because this, with all due respect, was QPR. The same QPR who are 23rd in the table, and who have collected just ten points so far,
This wasn’t Leicester or Leeds or even bloody “high-flying” Ipswich – this was a team that had scored just 11 goals. So fair play – a win is a win; a clean sheet is a clean sheet etc – but let’s hold fire with the ‘we’ve turned a corner’ banners until this conservative new world has been stress-tested against better teams.
I am not sure conceding 62 percent of possession when playing the team in 23rd at home is anything to be overly proud of. Equally, I’m not sure that picking a starting XI with an average age of 29.8 – the highest in the Championship this season – bodes particularly well for the future.
But… it was all about getting three points, so will be seen as a justifiable swing from youth to experience.
And, to be fair, it was two members of Wagner’s Dad’s Army who, it could be argued, made the difference yesterday. I speak, of course, of Sergeant Barnes and Private Batth.
Starting with the latter, his performance at Cardiff was, in itself, sufficient to beg the ‘why has he not started before?’ question but he followed it up with another yesterday that makes a nonsense of Wagner’s stubborn refusal to break up the ailing partnership of Ben Gibson and Shane Duffy.
I dare say, without the injury to Gibson said partnership would have endured but, while we wish injury on no one, we should be thankful that Batth has been given his chance and has taken it with the minimum of fuss.
Admittedly, all of the above is based on a sample size of two games but in those two games, the ex-Sunderland man has demonstrated a calmness and poise that is the polar opposite of what we have seen in the centre-back position for the opening 15 games.
It’s neither rocket science nor easy – as those who have played in that position will testify – but we expect our centre-backs to be error-free, to win their aerial duels, to win their tackles, to pass the ball simply and efficiently, and to make sure their starting position is the right one. Over the last 180 minutes, Batth has done all of those things and we’ve barely noticed – which is a sure sign of quality.
The case for Barnes is less compelling in terms of its outward appearance – I’m not sure he actually had many touches of the ball yesterday – but his influence on those around him and his organisational skills were there for all to see. In a side that badly lacks leaders, he is one.
Wagner spoke glowingly afterwards of what Barnes brings to the side and the squad as a whole, and it was no coincidence that yesterday, for the first time in 12 games, we had a functioning high-press. And from a starting point of being far too nice and too easy to play against, yesterday they at least demonstrated a little bit of devil, personified by Barnes’ injury-time rugby tackle in front of the away fans.
That was most un-Norwich-like but, in the circumstances, bought us 30 invaluable seconds.
In terms of the tactical set-up, part of the new-found conservatism (yuk) came in the form of two fullbacks who were far more selective around when to stay and when to go, which in Jack Stacey’s case came in quite handy given that, in the form of Ilias Chair, he had the game’s outstanding performer to try and contain – not an enviable task.
Finally, it would be wrong to end without mentioning the goal, which was a superb effort from Hwang Ui-jo, whose week had been, let’s say, interesting. 🙂 But when it mattered most he was able to pull the ball out of the sky and finish with a coolness that belied his first couple of months here, where he looked the epitome of a competition winner.
Key to it all was the timing of his run onto Gabriel Sara’s fine, lofted through-ball, but he then made the hard bit look easy and looked, in the process, like a proper striker.
Hopefully, that will boost his belief going forward.
So a win and three points … wahoo! … but save the bunting. Two bigger tests await in the next seven days. Then we’ll have a clearer picture.