Six things we learned from Norwich City’s stirring Nottingham Forest comeback
- Credit: Archant
The City Ground lived up to its name on Saturday – Michael Bailey takes a look at some of the key talking points from the Canaries' fifth Championship win of the fledgling season…
1 – City have a new benchmark
So we now know 2-1 beats 4-1 – certainly for Norwich City this season.
Much has been said about the win at Blackburn, impressive as it was in its goals and manner. But it wasn't a patch on Saturday.
Away from home at unbeaten hosts playing with quality and confidence, seeing Wes Hoolahan's penalty saved, going behind – and then putting in a second-half performance like that was hugely encouraging. Even City's first half deserved more than to be behind.
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So Saturday is the new 'best win so far this season' – although it did come with similarities to Ewood Park.
Rovers were open and naive on the opening day, while Forest are such an intrinsically expansive side that had City gone behind to opponents more able to defend a lead, life could have been tougher.
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Still, for the first time this season City (17 points) are now ahead of their 2014-15 (16pts) and 2010-11 (15pts) tallies on comparative fixtures (ie Blackburn A, Wednesday H etc).
And City's 2014-15 start had actually been better – but on Saturday they drew level with it: W5 D2 L1. The bar is rising.
2 – Duo prove there are more gears
I said as much in my two-minute preview video before the game – having Graham Dorrans and Jonny Howson in central midfield worried me.
They looked too soft and too open in midweek. Alex Tettey was going to be a serious miss on Saturday – especially away from home.
To a degree Alex Neil felt the same – because he challenged the pair before kick-off to prove they could do that side of the game. And they certainly did that.
Howson's thundering block challenge stuck in the memory – from that second-half moment City did all they could to build on it. The pair's raised level was a joy to watch.
And that should go for the Canaries as a whole.
Much of the angst following on from those two home wins and their anxious nature, came from a fear City would be found out when they came up against better sides.
What that line of thought assumed is that City would only be able to maintain their own level of performance, quality and commitment.
Perhaps most encouraging on Saturday was City finding their highest gear this season – with hopefully still more to find.
3 – Jacob is becoming a cornerstone
With the time these two are having, it's probably hard to imagine there is anything more to be said.
But Saturday was yet another example of why Jacob Murphy – and if the form switches, Josh – needs to feature for Alex Neil's promotion hopefuls.
Jacob's influence is growing by the week – and I write that off the back of a relatively quiet first half on Saturday.
What Jacob is proving he is capable of doing, is something out of nothing. And the way he conjured up a couple of chances in the second half was something special.
In fact, there's an argument at the moment that Jacob looks a more prolific threat than Nathan Redmond did at this level – perhaps Jacob's only drawback being his relative lack of experience over the Saints' new striker.
Jacob's pace with and without the ball allows City to mix it up – that's a huge tool for Alex Neil to have at his disposal.
There is also Jacob's set-piece delivery – especially from corners. He's making them dangerous, and he's making them count.
4 – Welcome to the Championship, Louis
As Alex Neil made his first substitution on Saturday, you wondered if there were people in the away end or following back in Norfolk thinking, 'Who's that coming on?'
Louis Thompson has been a Norwich player for more than two years now. Yet since leaving Swindon, he has spent far more time back at his old club than playing his new one.
But this season, things have started to soften for him at Carrow Road. He finally made his City debut in the EFL Cup win over Coventry. And he did a decent job, coming on late to help protect City's lead on his league and Championship debut. That, and he's 21 years old.
It all leads into an interesting question of Alex Neil – how much does he trust his younger players?
With Robbie Brady and Martin Olsson both fit for the first time this season on Saturday, Alex Tettey's absence may have played a part in Jacob Murphy keeping his starting berth. Either that, or you're dropping Howson or Dorrans. Everyone wants the youngsters to get a chance if they're ready – but not at the expense of wins. The second tier offers that to Neil – but it will need his best judgment.
5 – What a load of pants
It was a look of horror that came across Graham Dorrans' face when it was first mentioned to him.
The midfielder then took time after his interview with me, to check with BBC Radio Norfolk's Chris Goreham – just to see if he was in it.
As for Alex Neil, his expression spoke of wishing he was still in an era where a smart phone was one that sat at home after a polish.
Yes, not since the days of Russell Martin celebrating City's promotion at Portsmouth has talk of pants been so rife among the Canaries faithful.
Timm Klose's picture was plastered across social media – one that included almost the entirety of City's squad in the visitors' dressing room at the City Ground, in various degrees of undress.
And yes, Timm was in the middle – the only one standing up who opted for just black pants.
Dorrans? He was relieved to discover he was probably having a shower at the time said photo was taken – while numerous former professionals continue to draw breath in relief such a thing didn't exist in their day.
Timm was right in his caption though: This team.
6 – Seeing out is really believing
Through my various interviews following Saturday's win, the same question came up – and it was a tough one to answer.
How does a team that looked so uncomfortable defending a two-goal lead against two average Championship sides at home, suddenly look so accomplished at protecting a solitary goal's lead, at a side that should really finish in the top half of the Championship?
After weeks of performances that tended to leave more questions than answers come the final whistle, this time the question didn't threaten to undermine the result.
And in turn, we were treated to some fantastic scenes at the final whistle – as the City players celebrated with 2,000 bouncing supporters.
It was the sort of occasion that sticks in everyone's memory – and helps heal any rifts and scars lingering from last season's relegation.
The only point it brings up in response is that while City's travelling support have enjoyed a couple such occasions this season, Carrow Road is still awaiting a league win to really get its teeth stuck into this term.
It's Burton Albion next…