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Friday, November 23, 2012
A few weeks ago I’ll admit that I was starting to wonder if I’d turned into some sort of happy clapper who looked on the bright side regardless of events.
Three points from the first 21 was not exactly the stuff of dreams, but there were always signs that the side was developing in between the occasional nightmares.
It’s irritating to hear your team condemned to relegation with the season barely underway by the footballing Yoda that is Alan Hansen. However, it’s positively infuriating to hear them described as “the worst side in Premier League history” by Talksport’s resident windbag Adrian Durham after the victory over Arsenal (strangely enough, the team he’s rumoured to support).
However, that all seems a long time ago now as four amazing weeks have seen 11 points gleaned from a possible 15 and a mouth-watering Capital One Cup quarter-final with Aston Villa set up. Could it get much better for Canary fans?
Well, actually it might, because what was really striking about Saturday’s win was the relative comfort of it. Ignore the patronising tone of the national media who can only ever see such a result in the context of United’s shortcomings, rather than City’s excellence. Ignore too the face saving comment of “they defended with their lives” by Sir Alex Ferguson after the game. Defended against what, exactly?
Other than Ashley Young’s effort in the first half, and some shots from distance, the much-vaunted visitors were rendered toothless, with their closest attempt at an equaliser coming from Sebastien Bassong’s errant header. This was no fluke, nor a heroic backs-to-the-wall rearguard action; it was a perfectly planned and executed strategy, although, predictably, Match of the Day worked hard to produce highlights that suggested that United generated rather more late pressure than they actually did.
The style of football that United play is based on control of possession and pulling opponents out of position in order to exploit the gaps that have been created. However, City’s discipline meant that whenever a United player seemed to have found half a yard of space, a yellow shirt was always there to close the door, with the midfield supporting the back four brilliantly.
Maybe it was my yellow tinted glasses, but I honestly couldn’t see City losing the game after the first 10 minutes or so, such was their composure.
To be honest my biggest concern was the potential impact on the game of the referee, Anthony Taylor, who hails from Greater Manchester, but refereed the first half as if he’d been born in the Stretford End itself. Fortunately, he seemed to improve as the game went on.
Just like the Arsenal game the atmosphere was incredible, with virtually everyone on their feet willing the team home. It was also great to hear the Carrow Road crowd singing Chris Hughton’s name with real gusto for the first time. Quiet and unassuming he may be, but he is taking this club forward at a pace that we could hardly have imagined just a few weeks ago.
Unlike his predecessor, whose incessant tinkering with selection became increasingly hard to understand, Hughton clearly likes to show loyalty to those who perform for him. I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that the recent run of clean sheets has been built on a back four and central midfield which have remained largely unchanged throughout. However, as the Capital One Cup run has shown, there is real quality in reserve and that will be vital as the season goes on and injuries occur.
City now have huge momentum and having beaten United, Arsenal and Spurs in the last month will fear no one, but you can be absolutely sure that no club will be relishing a trip to Carrow Road.