Back-to-back wins the perfect way for Norwich City to kick-start survival push
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It had been 57 Premier League matches since Norwich recorded back-to-back wins, and almost two years since they managed to keep two consecutive clean sheets at Carrow Road.
Achieving both those feats in the first game of 2016 is some way to begin the new year.
After winning just one of the first six home games this campaign, Alex Neil has overseen such an impressive recent run of form that now only the top six sides have earned more points than Norwich on their own turf.
City's five-match unbeaten home record also signals Neil's longest run without defeat at Carrow Road since he took over and has coincided with several key personnel changes.
Ryan Bennett's inclusion and assured form in a familiar centre-back role has allowed Russell Martin to look far more comfortable at the right of defence, while Declan Rudd has done nothing but impress since replacing John Ruddy, winning half of the games he's started.
Martin Olsson's omission in consecutive games has come as a surprise, although in his place Robbie Brady's dominant displays on the left-hand side in all areas of the pitch have allowed Neil to select an additional midfielder to enhance our attacking threat.
There have however been occasional lapses on the road, with error-strewn defeats at Watford and Tottenham, but overall a new-look defensive line has looked much more steady and transfer rumours regarding potential imports to bolster this department are encouraging.
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On Saturday, the manager's decision to replace a largely ineffective Nathan Redmond with Vadis Odjidja just after the hour mark proved to be a game-changer. With his first season ruined by injury, the Belgian has been restricted to only 13 City appearances in almost 18 months, and had to spend September on loan in the Championship with Rotherham.
His introduction from the bench at the weekend offered an instant threat, running at the opposition and in doing so providing a brilliant assist for Alex Tettey's second winner in three outings.
With performances like that Odjidja will provide great competition for the attacking midfield role that has often been rotated.
After a gruelling festive period, Norwich will be able to play without any pressure against Manchester City in five days' time. Manuel Pellegrini's side face a League Cup semi-final first leg on Wednesday, a competition where they've been reluctant to rest too many players.
The Champions League and Premier League title will both be higher priorities than the FA Cup for them, so it will be interesting to see what kind of team they field at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Given the quality of the opposition, there will be some fans willing to gladly accept a third round exit, happy to fight for survival without the hassle of additional cup fixtures that might act as distractions and provide unwanted opportunities to pick up injuries.
I've never been one to subscribe to that theory. Going to Stoke midweek on the back of another positive result would be a welcome bonus.
You only have to look at the last two losing FA Cup finalists, Hull and Aston Villa, to appreciate this isn't a competition that should be written off by Premier League sides that find themselves out of the top half. Both sides survived and Villa in particular saw a direct correlation between league and cup form last season.
Saturday's clash will also mark 12 months since Alex Neil was appointed manager of the club.
On the evidence we've seen in a glorious year so far I'm sure he wouldn't be too keen on that date being marked by an early FA Cup exit.