March 5 2015 Latest news:

Running into Manchester City in prime form once is bad enough, but what have we done to deserve doing so twice in a season? I know that hundreds of millions were spent on assembling their squad, but this is a team that is capable of football of the most sublime quality. Just as at the Etihad earlier in the season I found myself in awe of one of the most fluid performances I’ve seen for some time.

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Playing an open 4-4-2 against such a potentially explosive side was always going to be risky, particularly after the effort that had been put into the game at Spurs on Monday. However, it made sense to try to take the game to City rather than try to contain them, but when the mood takes them they can take the very best sides apart, as United and Spurs have found to their cost.

In fact, having recovered from the home team’s blitz at the start of the second half the visitors simply ran Norwich into the ground with passing and movement allied to a work ethic which wasn’t always evident during their lean spell. Add to that the lethal finishing of Aguero and Tevez and you have to praise Norwich for staying in the game as long as they did.

While they were swept away in the latter stages, there is absolutely no reason to be downhearted, because for long periods they more than matched their illustrious visitors and, in fact, looked capable of pushing on for more goals after Surman’s strike. Compare that to the reverse fixture, where only grim massed defence kept the home side at bay until the walls were finally breached and then collapsed completely, and you can see how far Norwich City have come since then.

I have seen Saturday described as a reality check, but I think it would only serve as such for those who have dreamt of a place in Europe or a top seven finish. When this squad was finalised in the summer it’s objective was to stay in the Premiership, with anything else seen as a welcome bonus, and it has achieved that with flying colours, and confounded numerous pundits in doing so. Clearly expenditure in the close season was based on prudent budgeting with half an eye on the potential financial consequences of an immediate return to the Championship, as evidenced by the reluctance to negotiate new contracts until safety was assured.

One of Paul Lambert’s many strengths is that he has kept his squad totally focussed on the fact that consolidation had to be achieved before the next stage could be attempted. After our excellent post Christmas run it would have been very easy to get carried away, but he has always been pragmatic in what he has said and done, and never wavered from his prime objective. Hopefully that focus will continue to pay dividends as the season winds down and we can get somewhere close to the 50-point mark, which would be a fabulous achievement.

On the subject of Lambert I can’t help wondering how he would have handled the Carlos Tevez affair. Tevez is a remarkable footballer, but there is no doubt that his sabbatical in Argentina has contributed greatly to City losing control of the title race and I have to say that I found the level of adulation shown by the visiting fans towards him hard to credit. At least he didn’t have the hypocrisy to kiss his badge.

I appreciate that Mancini may have felt that his job depended on a strong finish, but I can’t believe that Lambert would have welcomed back someone who had so publicly disrespected his club and his manager. Some prices just aren’t worth paying.


Previous columns by Robin Sainty