April 23 2014 Latest news:
Monday, November 19, 2012
It’s highly timely that Norwich City’s programme is running a 20th-anniversary series on the 1992/93 campaign at the moment.
Because the like of the Canaries’ current home form has not been seen since that epic season or the first half of the following campaign.
Was Saturday the best individual City victory since Bayern Munich? It’s quite possible.
The only one that perhaps shades it – for reasons of history and geography – is 5-1 at Ipswich. That truly was a one-off, and not just because, on current form, it’s a fixture that will only be revived if someone fishes out the Ipswich Hospital Cup from a dusty drawer at Portman Road.
Saturday, you’d like to think, isn’t a one-off, and there will be more to come.
If you’re over, say, 35, you’ll know that this is how football used to be, when the Canaries were quite capable of taking on, and beating, the best.
The key features about this particular win over Manchester United is that there could be no suggestions of an under-strength opposition or – because they had started the day top of the table – of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side not taking the game seriously or it being a nothing-at-stake fixture.
I must admit that I could always see us scoring against Manchester United, but figured that we probably wouldn’t be able to hold out against the comeback kings of English football. The inevitable onslaught must come at some point, surely.
So when Anthony Pilkington scored with 59.55 on the clock I did rather worry that maybe he’d struck half-an-hour too soon.
But such was City’s organisation and work rate that that one goal did prove enough.
It wasn’t a case of hanging on grimly with 11 men and booting every loose ball into Row ZZ, Chris Hughton’s side looked thoroughly composed and focused.
Forget the possession stats or corner totals, this was a thoroughly deserved victory, and a performance on a par with anything seen during three years of never-ending highs in the Paul Lambert era.
If anything, Hughton has achieved something which his predecessor couldn’t – a landmark scalp of a big name.
I know winning at Tottenham last season was a fantastic occasion, but Saturday, for me, was still a more all-round, satisfying experience.
Especially when you consider it came just seven short weeks after the humiliation by Liverpool.
Granted, there are just five players who started both games, but after being taken apart again by Luis Suarez it seemed a popular topic for debate to ask which would come first: Hughton leaving Carrow Road or City being relegated.
Both currently look about as likely as Mick McCarthy winning a manager-of-the-month award.
Hughton has transformed our defensive outlook, and having filled his back four with his own men it’s currently hard to see anyone else getting a look-in.
Maintain this level of performance and as long as someone – anyone – can score the overall lack of goals won’t matter that much as we’ll certainly reach 40 points and take another small step towards starting to establish ourselves in the top flight again.
The sense of professionalism displayed against Manchester United – not to mention the previous two home league games – is something we haven’t seen since the early 1990s.
Beating both Arsenal and Manchester United wasn’t a matter of luck, by fluking a goal and then somehow holding out against all the odds.
We crafted an absolute brilliant piece of build-up play on Saturday which was finished off by a player who was clearly overjoyed to put last season’s miss at Old Trafford behind him.
Neither was there any sign of the ’little old Norwich’ approach which was our undoing eight years ago. We took on both at our own game and beat them fair and square.
It almost makes you wish that the last two decades of top-flight English football hadn’t happened.
This kind of form 20 years ago would have had you thinking about a serious tilt at glory, or at least a place in Europe, but nowadays that’s probably beyond clubs without a rich foreign benefactor.
Being able to welcome the likes of Manchester United back for a third successive season will be a start, though. It certainly makes a pleasant change from having Crystal Palace as your most regular opposition.
• DON’T BE KIDDED, THIS WAS NOT JUST ANOTHER WIN
Three years ago we’d just played Tranmere at home, and had to wait as long for a breakthough as we did on Saturday.
I only mention this because there will inevitably be some doomsayers among the City support who will still be trying to play down the significance of Saturday. “It’s only one win” – that kind of thing.
Forget that, it’s a huge result and shows just how far we’ve come from the summer of 2009 when we had to make do with a visit from Sir Alex Ferguson’s reserves for a friendly.
We’ve now hosted Manchester United in the league twice in a calendar year and won one match and come within a few seconds of drawing the other.
Who would want to be in our shoes? All the Football League, that’s for sure, which is why the likes of Cardiff and Leicester have spent squillions in a bid to join us.
Saturday makes you remember why – despite all its sheer, naked greed and complete lack of morality and humility – you want to be in the Premier League.
When clubs like Manchester United roll into town it’s a big occasion, but this is all too easy to forget in the years you’re having to play the likes of Barnsley, Crewe or Southend instead.
The atmosphere during the final half-hour on Saturday was something else and such was City’s resolute approach that Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to appear on the touchline a lot earlier than he might have expected to cajole and urge on his troops.
I know the main thing about Saturday is that we ended it as we started it, five points clear of the bottom three and a week closer to the end of the season, but for once City lived up to all the hype - and on live television too.
You could tell it was such an event that the usual stream of people “beating the traffic” on Saturday was a trickle. Even allowing for John Ruddy being forced into late heroics no-one wanted the game to end.
Truly it was an occasion to savour.
• EAST RIVALS NOW REALLY WORLDS APART
Saturday was certainly payback time for August 22, 2000, what with the results here and in Leicester.
If the likes of the Those Were The Days message board had been as well established then they’d have had an absolute field day that night.
As it was, I recall some media pundits still trying to draw parallels between the Norwich and Ipswich scores – Town drawing at home to reigning champions Manchester United in their first home Premier League fixture in five seasons at a sold-out Portman Road while we were being engaged in our own particular six-goal thriller against less-fashionable opposition – a 3-3 draw at home to Bournemouth in the League Cup first round in front of little over 12,000 loyal supporters.
I think it’s time to take the moral high ground now and say nothing about the Ipswich result on Saturday other than to mention that they’ve now lost 6-0 twice and 5-0 once already this season, as well as 7-1 and 5-2 last year.
At least when we were relegated to League One in 2009 our worst result was losing 4-2 at Charlton on the day we actually went down.
• UNDISPUTED NORFOLK KING
It wasn’t just the Ipswich result that stood out elsewhere on Saturday, but the one at Manchester City as well.
The two scores represent something of a drawing of a line in the sand.
On the one hand Chris Hughton has surely now won over his most determined of critics, while even the most staunch of Paul Lambert defenders will now be admitting: “Well, you’ve made your bed, you’d better lie in it now.”
He made his choice, we made ours, and it’s time to move on and leave the feuds to m‘learned friends.
Still, how long before we hear a chant of “Oh Paul Lambert, it could have been you” ringing round Carrow Road?
About 7.43pm on Tuesday, December 11 is my guess.
Although given that between now and then two of Villa’s four fixtures are against Reading and QPR you almost wonder whether he’ll still be in charge come three weeks tomorrow.
He’s certainly going to have a few tough decisions to make that night – does he go all out for victory, to ruffle a few feathers around here and take Villa a step closer to silverware in a season when it might actually be all about league survival?
Or does he field a weakened side at Carrow Road and lose, but be able to concentrate on the league and be able to infer that if only he’d been able to put out a stronger side things might have been very different.