Jon Rogers making his ACN debut today, reflecting on the progress City have made since the defeat to champions elect Leeds United. He examines some of the reasons behind this wonderful run of form....
On the 25th of August, about 6.05pm - I drained the last dregs of a pint that had got far too warm far too quickly. Elbows on the table, chin in my palm, a heavy sigh welcomed an unwanted thought.
I’d only just watched the bloody team who were going to get bloody promoted.
Leeds United utterly shit on us that day. Absolutely pooped on us from Norwich Cathedral spire heights. Then they used the towel that we threw in at one-nil to wipe themselves with, and then our white flag at three-nil to dab their barely-sweated brow bone dry.
As I shuffled out of the ground to the surround sound of disgruntled mumblings of ‘Why can't we play like that?’ harmonised by the ever so coy and modest Leeds fans squawking that they were going to win every league title for the rest of mankind.
After that performance, I had no choice but to finally, and jealously, believe their declaration.
Two months later, and somehow, we were above them (albeit for twenty-two hours), playing the sort of football that German football experts and pundits have been threatening Daniel Farke would play since he took over. I say - somehow - like it’s been some sort of happy accident, which would be a massive unjustified and disrespectful aspersion about the heroic efforts of Farke, his staff and the players. Even in the games we lost, especially the Sheffield United and West Brom games, neither losses were rightly deserved if you recall.
We’ve been utterly brilliant since that utterly warm day my pint turned. We’ve shored up. Calmed down. Worn teams down. Eased new players in. Got the crowd back on side. Risen up the league like bonfire smoke.
There are many reasons why we find ourselves happily and firmly in the playoff mix. The teenagers at fullbacks, Mo Leitner, Timm Klose, Marco Steeps and Teemu Pukki all being beautifully in-form, but there are three of the lesser talked about which I’ve been thinking of.
The first is Tim Krul. When he joined, he was rustier than the pen nib Ipswich Town use to sign the win bonus cheques.
Of course he was going to be a bit wobbly when he joined, he had played just four competitive games in two years, two of which were U23 games (if you count U23 games as competitive. And who does?) Unfortunately for Tim, West Brom and Leeds came to Carrow Road early and Tim Krul v2.0 would have never made those flappy-game-losing errors.
There were strong, bordering on obsessive, calls for him to be dropped and Remi, somehow, unsold. Yet, Farke kept his cool, told us to calm the fuck down and his sense resulted in another clean sheet on Saturday. Mr Krul is a quality player, and he can only get better.
Second one, is Mr Zimmermann. When Hanley was injured, the amount of blubbering hit fever pitch. Season over. Life over for some overreactionaries - which isn’t even a word.
In came Christoph banging around the pitch like an immaculate, stoned Robocop.
Never seen him smile. Never seen him bleed. Never seen him flap. One of the few players in football who is ready and willing to be physically hurt to win a football game.
Can anyone, bar Mr Hanley, see the Club Captain, and one of our players of the seasons last year - getting back into the team?
Affirmative. Course not.
The final reason, and it’s us. Us funky bunch of yella fellas, the home crowd. The annoying growling at every misplaced or backwards pass has stopped and, although wins make fans purr, there is a substantial change at Carrow Road. Farkelife.
For the second goal against Aston Villa, it has been very publicly and proudly announced that there were eighteen passes in the run-up to the goal. Farkelife.
However, the one thing hasn’t been reported is within those eighteen passes over a third were backwards. Ooops-dead-end-keep-possession-try-another-avenue-backwards-passes. Farkelife.
The tactic of making the opposition chase, chase, chase until they make mistakes with their positioning, works. It works glowingly well actually, now everyone is sufficiently drilled. Other teams are trying to counter this way of playing, but little is stopping it. Especially when we play away from home with home crowds who start to get impatient. Their fans demanding their team get hold of the ball.
It’s like a watching toddler playing piggy in the middle. Despite how much they are topped up with Cherryade, eventually they go wobbly legged and collapse. The late goals recently show that.
Which brings me to - can we can honestly continue this and be a serious challenge for promotion? I’m not one to get to up or down in a season, but this winning lots and lots does unmentionable things to me. And probably you.
The calm expectation hanging in the air rather than that nervous apprehensive fog is a lovely air to breathe, isn’t it?
Maybe I wasn’t watching a team who was going to get promoted back on that warm August, after all.
Maybe I was watching two.