Something changed, that’s why Norwich City had such a happy Christmas
PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:03 07 January 2016
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That was Christmas we just had wasn’t it? It’s just that being a Norwich City fan, as much as I love Santa’s arrival, it’s normally a guarantee Norwich’s results will be as welcome as the extra portion of sprouts your Mum unveils on Boxing Day.
Time to dream of Wembley again
1: So does Alex Neil take the FA Cup more seriously than some of his predecessors? I’m pretty sure he’ll want to win on Saturday, but don’t think we’ll see the strongest City squad. Neil likes to change the first XI around so much that it is unlikely to mean a team of exiles and youngsters will be pitted against Manchester City. I know one thing, May’s trip has whetted my appetite for another day at Wembley.
One Ed could be better than none
2: Like many others, and possibly the man himself, I was surprised by the apparent scale of negative reaction to Ed Balls’ appointment as chairman. I say ‘apparent’ because social media and chat rooms are not representative of every fan. I’m not entirely sure many, myself included, know exactly what a chairman does compared to the rest of the board, but he will ultimately only be a part of the decision process, not the decision maker. Give the guy a chance.
City’s best team? Not yet I’m afraid
3: Is this the best City team ever, as suggested by David McNally over the festive period? Technically the answer is probably yes. The modern game has moved on so much in terms of fitness and pace I’m sure this squad would beat past City teams. But greatness is not just about quality, it’s about giving the fans entertainment and magic moments to remember. The UEFA Cup run team remains the best side of my lifetime.
A job for Canaries’ loans manager?
4: Family circumstances meant City’s Aston Villa game was replaced by a trip to see Burton Albion versus Swindon, where Canaries loanee Louis Thompson was at the heart of the Robins’ midfield. While it was only one game, it was interesting to see the different outcomes such loans can have. While the Murphy twins tear up their respective leagues, Thompson looked like a young man low in confidence.
In my three decades of being a fan, the arrival of the festive period has always been a subject guaranteed to bring a knowing grimace out of even the most optimistic of supporter.
And this isn’t even one of those cases where the fatalistic thinking of the fan has overtaken fact.
I’ve had my little red pen out this week to look back on Norwich’s results over the holiday period, namely the weekend before Christmas Day to the one after New Year’s Day.
And in the 24 seasons from 1991/92 (chosen as it was when I became a regular), Norwich do indeed have a particularly mediocre record.
The average points-per-game prior to this season was just 1.29 (124 from 96 games).
City secured an average of a point or fewer per game on seven of those 24 occasions. Only five times had they claimed two or more points per match.
But this season, nine points from four games was the Canaries’ fifth best Christmas and New Year in a quarter of a century.
As someone more used to records like that in 2012/13, four defeats from four, that is a fantastic achievement last bettered in the Championship winning year of 2010/11.
And it’s all the more impressive given that pre-Manchester United, the mood was as gloomy as the slate grey skies around Old Trafford, where the run began.
So what’s changed in those last four games?
If you are Alex Neil you might say not much. All season he’s been adamant performances have been better than the points tally.
While that is true to a certain degree, something has changed to put City in a position where they might soon be able to look up the table, rather than down.
Prior to Christmas I’d been intrigued by the different experiences of Neil and Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe, inset, in their respective maiden Premier League seasons. Both clubs had been promoted on the back of all-action, attacking football. Both teams continued with those styles during the early weeks of 2015/16.
Then both clubs had a dip in form and results. While Howe maintained his stance on how best his team should operate, eventually coming out of the other side, Neil wobbled.
And when Neil wobbled, so too did the rest of the team. For a few weeks the style of play was noticeably different, more defensive. Some no doubt described it as Chris Hughton-esque.
The problem was, the results stayed pretty much the same, got worse even, and there were certainly a few who questioned whether our talented manager was out of his depth.
But the best managers show versatility. That in-built ability to change things around when something isn’t working.
Which might explain why, in recent weeks, Norwich appear to have settled on a hybrid of the two styles. One which is more solid defensively, but also carries a threat.
Clearly it’s paying off.
If relegation is prevented I have no doubt we’ll look back on these four games as the turning point.
And what a difference it could make in the next few weeks as Neil prepares to dip into the transfer market.
It must be so much easier selling to a prospective player a team that is on the up and starting to look secure for another season in the Premier League, than one in the bottom three and unsure of where its future lies.