When you get to a certain age and have played a bit of football and even done a bit of low-level coaching, you get fooled into thinking you understand the game. But you don’t.
Instead, it’s best to just defer to those who really do know the game, like our Hucks (Darren Huckerby for the uninitiated) who summed it all up in six words in one of his numerous social media exchanges with our Suffolk brethren before and after the derby.
“Things can change quickly in football”.
He was talking, of course, of the gap that currently exists in terms of quality (and league positions) between City and Farke’s whipping boys, but could just as easily have been talking on the subject of ‘Norwich City FC in the autumn/winter of 2023’.
Put it this way – in City’s last 17 games, starting with that disheartening 2-0 home defeat by Leicester on September 20, they have won six, but in the first nine of those games, their record was thus…
Won 1, drawn 1, lost 7.
It was, in truth, the type of run that would see the head coach sacked in nine out of ten clubs, But, as we know, Delia, Michael, and Stuart held the line. I’m not convinced they should have done but, hey, we’ve already concluded I know not what the hell I’m talking about.
But I’m not sure even they expected the record in the eight games that followed the 3-1 home humping by Blackburn Rovers to read…
Won, 5, drawn 2, lost 1.
And just to add to the unfathomableness of it all, for most of those eight games the football has been of a quality that has screamed mid-table nothingness, which in fairness is where most of the run has been played out.
But after yesterday’s win over a tepid Huddersfield, they find themselves in eighth – just two places shy of the playoff places and only points adrift of fourth-placed West Brom, their opponents on Boxing Day.
You could be forgiven for thinking the momentum is forward and the future is one sprinkled with hope. Strip away the David Wagner factor (and debate), and you could argue this team is well-placed for a promotion push.
Part of it, of course, comes down to the fact this is by no means a vintage Championship. Aside from Leicester, Leeds, and Southampton 🙂 , who appear set to soar off into the distance, the rest are all capable of beating each another on any given day.
So it will be those capable of putting runs of results together and who can find a bit of form at the right time who will lead the pack. And right now, that is City.
Wagner argued afterwards that yesterday’s performance was the most complete of the recent run, and is probably right, but there’s no denying that the first half was teetering on the turgid for long spells, as portrayed with the one-effort-on-goal stat.
Rather than an engaged, raucous Carrow Road, we had one filled with non-football related chat again – my River End neighbour and I found ourselves unwittingly swapping tales of our family arrangements over the Festive period. Fascinating stuff. Others took to social media to post their ‘sunset over Carrow Road’. For what it’s worth, mine is up there ⬆️.
Kenny McLean admitted afterwards that they had lapsed into “playing within themselves” – something that is easily done when you are having loads of the ball and are greeted with a bank of four and a bank of five whose only raison d’etre is to challenge you to break them down.
City couldn’t and the Terriers were more than happy to just sit in. It wasn’t the first time they have struggled against such a challenge, in fact, it is threatening to be this team’s Achilles heel.
But, for once, the chosen words at half-time were evident to all, as a different team emerged at the start of the second half – and I’m not just talking about Sam McCallum taking over from the again-stricken Dimi Giannoulis.
The intensity was upped, the ball was shifted a couple of beats quicker, and, to top it all, they were recipients of that priceless footballing commodity – an early goal.
While Darren Moore was critical of his men for the sloppy way in which it was conceded, I prefer to see it as a wicked cross from Marcelino Nunez and a fine far post header from McCallum, who went on to have a second half that was right up there with the second half he enjoyed at Portman Road.
It’s not been easy for McCallum, who finds himself understudy for the left-back berth, but that unlikely goal and two good performances in the space of a week will have done wonders for his confidence. And good for him.
But it was always going to need a second goal to steady the nerves – such is their ability to cough up opportunities for their opponents out of absolutely nothing – and the enigma that is Adam Idah was its instigator.
The threat in behind that so evidently isn’t there when Ashley Barnes is being deployed as the lone striker, very much is when Idah is in town, and not for the first time in this mini-revival, the Irishman had a tangible impact on the game.
Unfortunately for Idah, right now his most valuable contributions come from the bench as defenders start to tire, and his challenge has to be how to impact games from the word go when in the starting XI. I remain convinced there is a more-than-decent Championship striker in there somewhere.
Borja Sainz also warrants a mention as he continues to highlight the folly of Wagner consigning him to that prolonged spell on the sidelines. The finished article he may not be but he has added something new to the armoury and is blessed with that rare ability to loosen up instead of tighten up when presented with a goalscoring opportunity.
Someone on X, likened him to an early Emi Buendia, and although that in itself is a mighty stretch, he does add that element of devil that accompanied Emi wherever he went. And that’s no bad thing.
So, after a tumultuous autumn, we somehow find ourselves in touching distance of the playoffs, with an international striker returning to the side from injury in the new year.
Who knows. Predictions where Norwich City are concerned are pointless.
In the meantime, have a good Christmas if you can. If you can’t, at least have a peaceful one. It will soon be over.