Tidings of comfort and joy: now for a Norwich City win at Derby, please
06:30 20 December 2014
Focus Images 2010
There was definitely a Christmas feeling at Carrow Road, with the Huddersfield net bulging like an over-stuffed turkey and a pantomime linesman in front of the Jarrold Stand complete with 25,000 people regularly shouting “Oh no it wasn’t!” at him.
There was no shortage of good cheer – eventually.
Whether the first 45 minutes justified the half-time booing from some quarters is debatable, but even the most diehard moaner couldn’t have found fault with what followed.
Everywhere you looked City players were rediscovering their mojos. John Ruddy was looking unbeatable, Martin Olsson was reborn as the marauding full-back we all know and love and Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond were responding to their critics in the best possible way.
There were no weak links, and with all three substitutes making significant contributions this was a true squad victory.
Inevitably there was plenty of debate afterwards as to whether the turnaround over the last fortnight is down to Neil Adams finally finding the right formula, the presence of Mike Phelan or the absence of Mark Robson, but, ultimately, does it really matter?
If City have genuinely turned a corner, and this afternoon will give us the best indication yet, then everyone in the management team deserves credit, just as they deserved the criticism that came with the awful run in October and November. There is nothing to be gained from uninformed speculation at a time when unity is what’s needed.
I have seen it suggested that Huddersfield were a poor team reduced to 10 men, but City have gifted points to a succession of poor teams this season, and the defensive screen constructed by the visitors after the sending off might well have continued to blunt the home side’s efforts in previous weeks. However, this City team didn’t simply find a way to break it down, but ripped it to shreds in the course of six second-half minutes.
So what’s changed? To me the key is that there is a much clearer sense of purpose and discipline. There have been occasions this season when players have seemed unsure about what to do in certain situations, with Olsson a perfect example of this. When he gets forward with no inhibitions he is great to watch, but for much of this season he has often appeared reticent about attacking the byeline. That may well have been due to concern about what could happen if possession was lost, but on Saturday, with a more disciplined formation around him, he looked much more like his old self.
There are also promising signs of chemistry between Cameron Jerome and Hooper and the abandonment of the attempt to reinvent Bradley Johnson as a deep-lying playmaker, leaving him free to cause problems in the opposition’s box along with Jonny Howson, another naturally attacking player who has often been deployed too deep, is another positive move.
However, today will be a different test altogether. Despite losing at Middlesborough last week (and remember what happened to City there) Derby are a quality side who really should have gone up last season.
In Will Hughes they have one of the most promising young midfielders in the country and Chris Martin is likely to present City’s central defenders with more problems than Grant Holt did.
Nevertheless, City have a pretty good record against them, and last week should ensure the Canaries go to the iPro Stadium with plenty of self belief.
While a draw would be perfectly acceptable, if City come away with all the points it would send out a real signal that their season is back on track.