Six things we learned from Norwich City’s return to winning ways at West Brom

Gary ONeil with that head bandage of his. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Gary ONeil with that head bandage of his. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

Finally Norwich City took their chance and did themselves a favour. Michael Bailey picks his six points of conversation as the Canaries’ breathed new life into their bid for Premier League survival.

Read Michael’s column

You can read Michael Bailey’s weekly Norwich City column by buying an E-edition of Friday’s Eastern Daily Press – here

What’s more, you also get Iwan Roberts’ weekly thoughts in the same edition of the paper – so two Canary columns for the price of one.

1 – You couldn’t move for all the monkeys off Norwich City’s back

Whatever your feelings about Norwich City’s survival mission, Saturday’s win was a big moment in their season – if only for the number of runs it broke.

There were the overriding stats, such as City earning their first win in 12 games in all competitions, and 11 in the league of course.

There was the first goal away from home since Jonny Howson’s wonderful strike at Stoke, back in January. Or the fact Saturday brought the first points for City’s travelling supporters to enjoy since that historic win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, back in December – exactly three months to the day at The Hawthorns.

There was the end of one long-standing stick to beat City with: no one can now refer to them as the only side without a clean sheet on the road this term.

But there were subtle ones too. The first wins at City for Timm Klose, Ivo Pinto, Patrick Bamford and Steven Naismith. Matt Jarvis’ first assist since May 2014 – somehow. And the first time John Ruddy has been on a winning side since November 7. We’ve seen more than enough negative stats for one season.

Here’s to some positive ones being created over the remaining seven games.

2 – Gary O’Neil should keep the head bandage

Obviously it had an ominous start, not only wearing the guilt of a few fallen Robbie Brady teeth and leaving Willian on the floor, as well as appearing for the rest of City’s defeat at home to Chelsea. It even made the long trek west to Wales, and made about as much impact as everything else of a yellow and green persuasion.

But once you dust that off and assume all it was doing was ironing our a few creases, you’re left with the fact Gary O’Neil’s head bandage has been something of a star in the last two games – moping up attacks from central midfield alongside Jonny Howson, as well as it does blood and sweat. Maybe even tears.

Now I’d hate to speculate over any slip of said head bandage that saw Gary inexplicably play-in Stephane Sessegnon on Saturday.

Instead, it seems more proactive to campaign for O’Neil’s now-trademark headwear to stay put for as long as City’s and his form continues.

He’s still making up for what happened at Stoke, after all.

A quick word here for Brady too, who has truly been in the wars recently. That goal on Saturday may yet prove season-defining.

3 – Alex Neil has his framework for their super seven sign-off

It was hard not to feel deflated at the news of Ryan Bennett’s injury before Saturday – if only because it meant Alex Neil couldn’t keep the defensive line that did so well against Manchester City.

That feeling was eased to a degree, by the City gaffer acknowledging he had wanted to keep things the same at the back.

City’s selection changes predominantly revolved around the injuries picked up – and not switching Jonny Howson wider, or moving Russell Martin back inside and creating one more change to the defensive line than you started with.

All this is easier when results are positive and as a manager, you’re not having to search for answers. That is the positive situation Neil now inhabits.

Of course there will be injuries. There will be times when City’s approach will need tweaking.

But much like the subtleties between 4-4-1-1 and 4-2-3-1 formations, what the City boss does now have is a real framework to stick to. That midfield partnership of O’Neil and Howson. Once again Martin Olsson sitting nicely behind Robbie Brady looked the ideal left side to build from. And in Dieumerci Mbokani and Patrick Bamford, a duo that showed good promise. Less is more from here.

4 – Jonny be good enough to claim player of the season gong

The player of the season debate is in itself a season-long discussion. No one can help themselves but think about who will get their vote as early as the first 10 games.

Now, in looking back at City’s crucial goal on Saturday, there was one unanswered question from the live action I took in – who supplied the pass for Dieumerci Mbokani?

And with the way things have been, there was really only one man it could be.

For someone who has played in numerous different roles – not all of them suited to his game – Jonny Howson has been so consistent this season.

Even in the abysmal performances, it would often be Jonny whose level was better than most.

But it’s when he has played centrally that he has really shone. No one in City’s central midfield can drive forward with the ball like Howson, as well as chipping in with goals.

There has even been a bit of needle to his game in recent weeks – the kind of fight City had been crying out for.

Certainly Robbie Brady started the campaign supremely well. But no one has rivalled Jonny for season-long consistency.

5 – The Canaries like it at the bang-average Baggies

West Bromwich Albion were booed off by their own supporters following Saturday’s final whistle. Yet ironically, that was arguably the best of the Baggies’ three performances against Alex Neil’s men this term.

It’s not often any home side will be applauded off after 90 minutes without a single shot on target, of course. And no doubt Albion simply couldn’t get themselves up for the visit of Norwich in the same way they had for Manchester United. At the same time, much like City fans’ struggles with Chris Hughton’s approach two seasons ago, Albion supporters are still indifferent to the way Tony Pulis is leading his troops.

What Pulis is doing is keeping them in the top flight – Albion fans should be aware that another manager, maybe most managers with the same resources, probably would not.

Who manages West Brom is not an issue for City – they now have five wins from their last seven trips to The Hawthorns.

Such form anywhere other than Carrow Road for the Canaries is worth writing home about. Hopefully City head back their next season.

6 – Batttle-hardened boys can make life nervy for the Eagles

Think back to August. Do you remember trying to work out how the survival battle would pan out? I mean, Leicester were going to struggle to match their great escape with Claudio Ranieri in charge, West Ham could be hampered by Sam Allardyce’s exit and there was no way all those Watford signings were going to gel in time…

The season has been special for numerous reasons but it’s never really caught light for Norwich City – and yet, they still have their key goal in sight.

Sure, everyone would have preferred safety already being secured – but there’s nothing surprising about what City have to do from here on in.

And that was a big positive from Saturday’s game – City looked battle-hardened rather than weary. They fought for every patch of ground and against a side whose job was already done, it made the difference.

So flash it forward to three weeks’ time. If City can do the business over Newcastle and Palace lose at Manchester United, the Canaries and Eagles would be within two points of each other when they meet at Selhurst Park.

One side knowing their battle; the other having sat fifth at the start of the year. It’s a strength to draw on.

Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey

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  • Hi malaga, interesting indeed the way Palace have gone into free fall. Does Pardew have attention span problems, or does he just get bored? He flatters to deceive. Were it not for that circus clown of a referee, Simon Hooper, we would've probably beaten Palace in the 1st game. We owe them a jolly good trouncing next time, chaps! Kudos to Trevor Keith; he has banged the drum on behalf of Jonny Howson for a while. Is JH a candidate for the Captaincy? As Young MB says, Jonny has added a bit of "needle" to his game, to go with his undoubted talent. Btw; I see no reason why you shouldn't be Supporter of the Season, el dingo. You deserve it just for being a good ol' boi!

    Report this comment

    Mad Brewer

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

  • Hola Spanish - I'm fine ta. Having a break from here myself till the Friday before the Newcastle game. The "banter" can become unbearable when there's precious little football news to get in the way.

    Report this comment

    el dingo

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

  • SpanCan, don't let the bollox get you down. some don't know any other way.... Don't get ahead of ourselves, Newcastle at home will be the battle of battles and I predict cards a plenty. Lose that one and we're up against the wall again. Win and they're in trouble. Talk about massive match.

    Report this comment


    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • I have not felt the urge to post for the last few weeks, most of you can probably guess why? But I still read your posts everyday at some point and watch every game in full from afar, not actually that far really. Well not as far as some are removed from reality. Anyway, my reason for popping in is to say hi to mi amigo El D, how you keeping matey? Also to all the regular posters who make me smile, wince and chortle in equal amounts. Keep on posting chaps and remember (Others Talk Bollox Constantly)

    Report this comment


    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • Anyone looking for another positive it is that Palace are on exactly the same kind of freefall that characterised our last PL season, culminating in relegation. This is the worst time to get into a bad run of form but conversely a good time to be on a roll. Realistically, if we can win four of our remaining games we will be safe; maybe three plus a draw. It would, however, be wrong to under-estimate the task, taking into account nerves, a few unexpected results and finally the fact that we have somehow to find some renewed goalscoring form. One thing for sure, it is going to be a nail-biting and fascinating run-in!

    Report this comment

    malaga flier

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • Winning is good, I don't care what it looks like and who scuffs their assists as long as the goals go in. Timm Klose has been great form and is getting his gametime in for "Die Nati" in the Euros. Let this be the turning point and maybe next season we'll be winning the league at this time. It could happen.

    Report this comment

    Swiss Canary

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • I sincerely hope this is the turning point for City... However I hope the A N remembers that old saying.... you don't change a winning team..... and goes back to the his way of chopping and changing the side.... if it wins ... leave it alone... if it loses then look for change!!!!!

    Report this comment


    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • Let's win the next two games and drag Palace into the mix.

    Report this comment

    Surrey Canary

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • Good article and I agree with every one of the six points. Howson has been immense recently and long may it continue. Who will Tommy pass his "Supporter of the Season" trophy on to? Not me, obviously.

    Report this comment

    el dingo

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • I like the cut of 61C's jib. A fully enamoured supporter. Whoo hooo ! MOGdem will be conkered . . . . ᕦ(ò_óˇ)ᕤ

    Report this comment

    Ole Tommy Buster Custard

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • Re: Johnny Howson, quite few questioned his continued selection earlier in the season, but the managers strong faith in him is paying off and he certainly is putting in some quality performances. Before this game I was thinking that if we had lost that would probably be it for our season, but now I can see how we can make it out. Doesn't matter who we play now, we are at that stage of the season where simply have to keep winning! OTBC

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    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • I'm liking that last point, MB!

    Report this comment

    Flying Canary

    Monday, March 21, 2016

  • A few weeks ago i wondered if the training at Colney was poor or that A.N. had lost the dressing room and the team did not want to play for him. I have never been more happy to be proved wrong. A.N. you and the lads are showing you are up for a fight and it is not too late. O.T.B.C.

    Report this comment


    Monday, March 21, 2016

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