Paddy Davitt verdict: Signs of life at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's darkest days this season have induced a queasy sensation, but the patient's vital signs look strong.
The Canaries had to overcome a sickness bug sweeping through the camp to brush aside a committed Birmingham, which has now rendered Colney a no go zone until the early part of this week.
This win was all the more impressive given the back catalogue of injuries, Youssouf Mulumbu's unavailability due to African Cup of Nations duty, and the disciplinary precipice Alex Tettey is navigating with each fresh Championship duel.
During that wretched pre-festive downturn any or all of those negative factors would have knocked Alex Neil's under-performing squad off course.
They would have provided ready made excuses for a prolonged decline from the campaign's high of beating Burton to go top of the Championship. But this was fresh evidence there is resilience and a resistance, perhaps forged from such adversity.
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We hardly need to re-visit those episodes of anger and frustration directed at Neil and the club's top brass. Yet nor should we feel the worst is over, on the back of a rich seam of Carrow Road form. Return from Cardiff City and Wigan in coming days with more points and more momentum around the fringes of the play-off places and that flickering sense of optimism may have genuinely fertile ground in which to grow.
Birmingham appear a work in progress under Gianfranco Zola. The physical intimidation and earthy approach of Gary Rowett overwhelmed Norwich at St Andrew's earlier in the season. With hindsight that was the first sign of trouble ahead for the Canaries as they were bullied in the West Midlands.
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The focus is softer under Zola, who clearly wants his team to dominate the ball, to stretch the pitch with aggressive full-backs and deploy front players who have clever movement.
Norwich were tested for long spells out of possession; the type of test they have routinely failed. There was a touch of fortune to this latest clean sheet, allied to lack of clinical intent from the Blues in the decisive moments, but Neil and his players will feel they have earned that.
John Ruddy's bar was still vibrating from Lukas Jutkiewicz's close range header when Cameron Jerome powered through, before chopping back inside Ryan Shotton to coolly guide the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak.
The hosts had been second best in open play but how often has the reverse been true in the previous months? Those league matches when City's pretty patterns and pleasing motion lacked the venom and left them vulnerable to the counter-punch.
Neil felt the previous weekend's win over Wolves was a sea change in his squad's ability to marry industry to technical quality. It needed both again, particularly in a fraught spell at the start of the second period when a Birmingham goal would have induced a nauseous feeling on the terraces to match that in the home dressing room.
Norwich emerged unscathed and but for their own profligacy could have enhanced the margin of victory.
Jerome was denied by Kuszczak at the far post and Steven Naismith's tame close range header, straight at the keeper, robbed him of another goal to embellish an influential shift.
The panache can wait. Neil and his players are still repairing the damage from a complacent, arrogant approach to the task of plotting another concerted promotion push.
They will be back there again, peering into the abyss and berated for a lack of fighting spirit and tactical nous, if they fall short at Cardiff and Wigan.
The focus in the coming hours now switches to concerted attempts to tweak a squad which looks threadbare in certain positions.
Much hinges on the end game swirling around Robbie Brady. Should the Republic of Ireland international depart for the Premier League he must be replaced.
Neil conceded after beating the Blues central midfield is another area of concern ahead of Mulumbu's return, underlined by the fast-tracking of Ben Godfrey.
As much as City's fate will be decided on the pitch in the weeks ahead what happens between now and 11pm tomorrow and the transfer window deadline is likely to frame the degree of difficulty and the prospects of success.
City need a decisive, positive end to another transfer window rich in speculation but so far lacking the additions to equip the Canaries for the final onslaught.