Nil bounce, sort it out Snakepit, two key cameos, structural limitations and Paul Heckingbottom – Six things we learned from Norwich City’s latest Carrow Road success over Barnsley
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Norwich City finally tasted that winning feeling again, but it was far from plain sailing against Barnsley – Michael Bailey dishes out his six of the best from Carrow Road.
1 – City are still owed their bounce
Time will tell whether Saturday was the last game Alan Irvine takes charge of Norwich City. Either way, it’s hard to imagine there were any safer hands to put the team in following Alex Neil’s sacking.
Irvine’s experience clearly had its uses, and how he’s carried himself has been everything I would’ve expected beforehand. He’s a good guy, he’s done a good job. He may yet get to do it for a bit longer, depending on how that head coach search plays out.
Yet, did City do anything in two games under Irvine they would not have done under Neil? Not really.
The style, selection and formation barely changed. Speaking to Jonny Howson after their Barnsley win, he uttered the words “nothing has changed”. He meant it in a good way, but still.
Some sackings happen because the club is desperate for an immediate bounce. This never felt like one, and the reality has followed suit.
2 – It was bang out of order
I didn’t need to push him on it. Howson volunteered his opinion: that those fans who jeered Jacob Murphy’s shot should have a good look at themselves.
Murphy shanked the ball out for a throw. Some in the Snakepit and Lower Barclay questioned what on earth that was supposed to have been – in their own style. I looked across from the press box expecting to see smiles and laughs. I couldn’t believe it was being sung out of genuine anger.
Some fans will feel they pay for the privilege to say whatever they feel. Fine. In this case, those same fans need to know what they did was on the stupid side of ridiculous – regardless how frustrated they were at the shortcomings in Jacob’s defensive game or the inexperience of his youth.
Once again, Jacob made a match-winning contribution. Some fans need to get out of their sulk and remember why they are a Norwich City supporter.
3 – With them lay the real improvement
The previous City manager may well have cursed his luck several times in 2017. It probably all started with that free-kick Robbie Brady bent home on his Burnley debut, having never done it in 18 months at Carrow Road.
Had he been watching on Saturday, he may have felt the same thing when Alan Irvine could bring on Nelson Oliveira and Graham Dorrans for late second-half cameos.
The Barnsley win was Dorrans’ first appearance since that nasty Boxing Day tackle at Reading. Be it suspension or injury, Oliveira’s outing was only his fourth since mid-January.
Neither player did anything particularly ground-breaking during their six minutes of football. Yet, their presence was significant. It raised the level, when all too recently that option seemingly hasn’t been available from the bench – for numerous reasons.
It bodes well for the remaining games, and offers mild mitigation for some of City’s shortcomings this year. Certainly their old gaffer will think so.
4 – There are always structural limitations
Is anything more fashion-reliant than a football structure? Titles change, work boundaries have different connotations, the personnel and skills will differ. Yet their changes offer hope when clubs appear a bit lost.
That’s exactly where City have found themselves and judging by the reaction to their plans for a sporting director – hopefully appointed within a fortnight – and a head coach, there is optimism among some supporters it will help City move forward.
City have tried a director of football structure before. June 1998 saw Bryan Hamilton oversee a freshly appointed manager in Bruce Rioch.
That didn’t last two years. Rioch left and Hamilton took over. Even now, that proves getting the right people in the right roles is the only way to make entire frameworks successful.
What City do now have is a new managing director in Steve Stone, that is already getting a positive message across to fans. That’s definitely a good start.
5 – Barnsley fans love Hecky
For the second successive Saturday, Carrow Road had a strange feeling to it – but nothing compared to what Barnsley fans must experience.
The Tykes won their second visit to the ground. That was May 1937. They are still waiting for a repeat.
The Barnsley fans came in modest numbers and made more noise than they should’ve been allowed by the rest of Saturday’s crowd – especially first-half chants for manager Paul Heckingbottom.
It was abundantly clear how much those fans love Heckingbottom and given their recent rise, but perhaps most impressively the way he has steadied the ship following the exits of Sam Winnall and Conor Hourihane, he deserves all kind of praise for his work.
They are even easy on the eye – and did what Jacob Murphy couldn’t: coax humour out of the Snakepit as Adam Hammill faked placing his corner outside the quadrant. And we know how much they like that sort of thing.
6 – Dream a little dream
Rhetoric and reality are out of sync at present, and the draft from Saturday’s win is the best case in point.
Even I cast a glance at the Championship table and momentarily felt closing five points in eight games was far from mission impossible. Any other season, it’d be game on – and that feeling won’t go anywhere until City roll up at Villa Park.
But that should be regarded as a temporary state of affairs – at least for those outside of the City bubble.
Of City’s remaining eight games, six are against sides alongside them in the top nine. Another is at Villa Park, where Norwich haven’t won since November 1992 and Gabby Agbonlahor is never unfit enough to not cause problems.
Others are slipping up, yet all evidence this season says City are incapable of doing their bit and that will be proven come April. Still, to spoil the fun before then would just be cruel.