Norwich City have discovered their lost soul
06:30 13 December 2014
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Apparently it was the 33rd anniversary of the day that Wigan Casino closed its doors for the last time on Saturday.
Judging by the appalling turnout for City’s game there clearly aren’t many Northern Soul fans amongst the Wigan faithful. Still, at least there was some cracking music on the PA system.
The DW Stadium was freezing (what is it with northern grounds and open corners?) and what little atmosphere there was came exclusively from the Norwich contingent, who were still happily singing long after the home fans had sloped off.
We don’t get to celebrate too many away wins (or home ones for that matter) these days, so it’s always important to savour the moment.
It was also great to hear the City fans chanting John Ruddy’s name every time he touched the ball. The ironic applause last week was hardly likely to help a player low on confidence and it was good to see the big man looking more like his old self.
The performance wasn’t pretty, but it was a perfect example of winning ugly, something that City have failed to master so far this season.
If this is a sign that the utopian commitment to attacking football is to be tempered by an element of pragmatism there will be no complaints from me.
As has become almost customary, there were plenty of raised eyebrows at the team selection, with Russell Martin and Carlos Cuellar apparently drawing the winning tickets in last week’s central defensive lottery, but with two out-and-out strikers the selection of four central midfielders provided some important steel when Wigan finally worked up a head of steam and ultimately justified the sacrifice of a wide player.
Were there signs of a Mike Phelan influence? It’s difficult to judge at this early stage, but three things struck me. The first was the greatly-improved body language from the City bench, with Neil Adams, and occasionally Phelan too, animated in the technical area for most of the game in contrast to the previous week’s crossed arms and glum expressions.
The second was a new attacking tempo, with some good one-touch passing interspersed with longer balls to turn the defence, a great improvement on the rather predictable one-paced build-up that has become the norm in recent weeks.
Certainly there seemed to be a willingness to get the ball forward quicker rather than building tortuously from the back every time, the goal being a perfect example.
However, perhaps the most important difference was the fact that once Wigan started to gain control of the game, City defended as a unit rather than chasing a second goal and leaving themselves open to the counter. Consequently there were relatively few alarms and they were still able to launch some dangerous breaks of their own without over-committing men forward.
I think many of us were feeling rock bottom after the Reading defeat and, while we shouldn’t kid ourselves that Wigan were anything other than an average team, you can only beat what’s in front of you and an away win and clean sheet are never to be sniffed at.
Today will provide a tougher test, not least because of the presence of a certain Grant Holt in the visitors’ ranks. This will be City’s second meeting with their former hero and hopefully it will end better than the first, the ignominious defeat at Villa Park last season.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer and we will learn much more about whether a corner has been turned by 5pm, but at least there are signs things are improving at last.
Let’s hope that inspires the home support to recover the voice it seems to have lost in recent weeks.