May 23 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
“We did it to Tottenham, we’ll do it to you…” Fair play to whoever coined that chant on Saturday – although it would be a nice change to hear something that wasn’t based on Sloop John B – because no one could have surely seen either a result or a performance like this in advance.
It’s displays like this and at White Hart Lane which have led to so much of the downbeat mood of the last couple of weeks.
Not because everyone appreciates that being safe long before the likes of Aston Villa isn’t a huge achievement – it is – but because the no-show against Liverpool and the abject surrender at Blackburn were so out of character. As a squad, the Canaries are so, so much better than that. And boy did they show it on Saturday.
Three days on I still can’t decide which was the better display – against Tottenham or Arsenal. Both have their merits. We might not have won at the Emirates Stadium but it was an unbelievable showing of never-say-die spirit.
It was the perfect way to round off three incredible seasons of away displays, and it was fitting that Grant Holt – although the goals correction committee might have something to say about his effort later, I guess – was among the scorers, being the sole survivor of a team which kicked all this off with the 2-0 victory at Hartlepool back in August 2009, and watched let’s not forget, by just 832 visiting supporters.
The Canaries skipper wasn’t on target that day – Michael Nelson and Stephen Hughes were – but it’s a point that can’t be made enough: scorers like those two, and everyone who has made a positive contribution since then, have played their own part in getting City to where they are now and should not be forgotten now. Perhaps away games might never be the same in the future – next season some of the Premier League deadwood will have been removed, the novelty value of the top flight will have gone and we’ll have to adopt a steely and clinical focus on grinding out 40 points.
So, for the final time, it’s worth reflecting on the Canaries’ away record in the Lambert-Culverhouse era: P63 W27 D18 L18 F99 A86 Pts 99.
Will there ever be such a golden three-season away era again? Maybe if we started qualifying for Europe, but given that we will never have the financial wherewithal to make the top five and don’t do cup runs I can’t see that happening any time soon, if ever.
With hindsight, we perhaps shouldn’t have expected anything else against Arsenal.
After all, Saturday was no one-off. It just shows what we can achieve when we’re fully focused. Anything less than that and you’re running the risk of an Ewood Park repeat.
For me, it joins the select band, in no particular order, of winning 5-1 at Ipswich and 5-0 at Colchester, securing promotion at Charlton and Portsmouth, and the victory at Tottenham as the very best of the last three seasons.
As impressive as the Emirates Stadium undoubtedly is as a venue, I came away almost thinking that, like the other locations, I almost never want to go back there again. What could possibly compare with our most recent visits? How could they ever be topped?
All right, four of these settings might not be graced by the Canaries for some time – if ever (well, there’s one that would come into this category, that’s for sure) – but the pressure will certainly be on in north London next season not to tarnish the memory of what has been achieved over the past month. But we can worry about that another time.
At least when we return next season six goals against north London’s finest should provide fresh inspiration for some more new songs – maybe even related to not qualifying for the Champions League.
• WENGER’S WHINES CAN’T TAKE AWAY FROM CITY’S HEROICS
Eventful as Saturday’s match was I found it hard at times to concentrate on the action and not divert my attention to the far touchline.
How many times was Arsene Wenger complaining to the fourth official? It was like a never-ending tirade. Even from the other side of the ground it made for compelling viewing – being both comical and annoying – although when Russell Martin was pulled back, say, the Arsenal manager was nowhere to be seen. Odd that.
His post-match handshake with Paul Lambert was even more brief and cursory than any encounter with Sir Alex Ferguson. Yet Saturday was not a case of Arsenal dropping points, but the Canaries winning one.
Was it the ‘White Hart Lane factor’ and were we just motivated by another big stage? Hard to tell, but after conceding early again – and a goal not dissimilar to the shortcomings at Blackburn – we could have easily collapsed, instead we stormed back with the most fearless of displays against – supposedly – the country’s third best team.
Arsenal must have had the mother of all talkings-to at half-time because they really upped their game after the break, but we just continued to stick to the task. I’d have taken 3-2 before the game but when we did fall behind I almost felt cheated because we deserved to get something out of the game.
But we refused to be daunted. Had we gone 4-3 down in injury time you sense we’d have still got a point – it was just meant to be.
Then enter Steve Morison… You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that in the last three months he’d almost given up. But at the Emirates, thanks to the support that just wasn’t there against Fulham or Blackburn, he looked a different player and his finishing was sheer quality and on a different level to others‘.
It was not just the warmth of the goal celebrations which were telling, but the fact that Paul Lambert pointedly put an arm round his shoulder as they left the pitch.
Will he start against Aston Villa now? It would certainly help to prevent it from being a non-event. It deserves to be a day of celebration for what has been achieved and more finishing – and service – like that would round things off nicely.
• A couple more points about the coming weekend.
We haven’t won a final-day game since 2004 and only the top two have done the double over us – you certainly wouldn‘t want Aston Villa to join their illustrious company.
In other words, City have to want to win; for the club to maximise prize money on a day when they can effectively finish anywhere between 11th and 14th and secure an extra £1.6m if they can move up from their current 13th; and for the fans, so we don’t have a third successive non-event to follow on from Carlisle and Coventry.
Somehow, with all the managerial speculation that’s going on I can’t imagine that last point will be allowed to happen.
• ANOTHER SIGN OF HOW FAR WE’VE COME
Crowd figures seldom prove things you didn’t know anyway, but it’s so rare for the Canaries to play in front of 60,000-plus crowds that it’s worth recording the following...
How far City have come recently can be shown by the fact that they have played in front of two of the biggest crowds in their entire history this season, having attracted two of their lowest post-war figures during the 2009/10 promotion campaign.
In fact, there are less than a dozen crowds bigger than Saturday’s at the Emirates Stadium to have seen the Canaries in their 110-year history.
And while we’re at it, this season’s top four attendances – at Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle – between them are only 4,000 less than the total away gates of that whole League One season.
• Highest all-time attendances
100,000 Tottenham (League Cup) 1973
100,000 Aston Villa (League Cup) 1975
100,000 Sunderland (League Cup) 1985
75,514 Man Utd (Premier Lge) 2011
71,597 Birmingham (Play-offs) 2002
67,812 Man Utd (Premier Lge) 2004
67,633 Tottenham (FA Cup) 1959
65,125 Sunderland (FA Cup) 1951
63,500 Luton (FA Cup) 1959
63,405 Man Utd (FA Cup) 1967
60,092 Arsenal (Premier Lge) 2012
• Lowest post-war crowds
1,790 Torquay (League Cup) 1995
2,070 Paulton (FA Cup) 2009
2,814 Gillingham (JPT) 2009
2,846 Barnet (League Cup) 1997
2,886 Charlton (League Cup) 1991
2,907 Carlisle (Div Two) 1985
2,933 Orient (Div Two) 1982
2,990 Rochdale (League Cup) 2007
3,078 Watford (Div Three) 1946
3,100 Torquay (League Cup) 2006
3,165 Tamworth (FA Cup) 2007
• IT HAS TO BE HOLT FOR PLAYER AWARD
It’s player-of-the-season time, and for a third year in a row I won’t be voicing any objections whoever claims the prize – everyone has played a part along the way. But, if forced to make a choice I’d have to go for:
Third: David Fox, for consistency and effectiveness
Second: John Ruddy, as above, although his last-gasp save at Anfield from Luis Suarez was a prizewinner in its own right.
First: Grant Holt, for making things happen, and the completion of an unbelievable goalscoring journey from League Two to the Premier League in four consecutive seasons. But, hey, given that I went for Fraser Forster and Russell Martin in the last two seasons, what do I know?