Six things we learned from Norwich City's determined stalemate with Manchester City
PUBLISHED: 13:38 14 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:59 14 March 2016
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Manchester City arrived with faint Premier League title aspirations, but Norwich City left with renewed survival hope - Michael Bailey takes us through half a dozen discussion points from a captivating draw
Read Michael’s column
You can read Michael Bailey’s weekly Norwich City column by buying an E-edition of Friday’s Eastern Daily Press – here
What’s more, you also get Iwan Roberts’ weekly thoughts in the same edition of the paper – so two Canary columns for the price of one.
1 – So they really can do it, and it really is all everyone wants
It was the starkest of the realisations – you had to go back to the first 48 hours of the year, to recall the last time a final whistle blew and City fans could smile.
From failures to show up to tossed-away leads, abysmal offside calls and late goals – 2016 has, to be frank, been horrendous.
Add to that the memories and sense of impending doom from two seasons ago, and perhaps it’s no wonder the Canaries’ apparent repeat-disintegration was bringing about the atmosphere it has. That was, until Saturday.
Fans who have tweeted me for weeks with morbid tales of the drop suddenly started to believe their club might actually pull through.
No doubt about it, repeat the fight, desire and game-management from this weekend for the rest of the season, and it could yet get them out of this hole.
That will require a level of consistency City have been unable to show so far this season. But much like the fact City were relegated two seasons ago, that doesn’t mean it has to happen again.
It was at 14 games to go in 2014 that City also drew 0-0 at home to Manchester City. They followed it with defeat at West Ham. It needs to be a different outcome at West Brom this time.
2 – Referees are not allowed a sense of humour
You could almost hear the cogs whirling inside Jon Moss’ head.
The second half was trotting on and Manchester City were not winning. Away from home, at a side in the depths of relegation fear, desperate for a point.
So clearly, Norwich must have suddenly started to time-waste. This of course, was regardless of what was taking place during the actual game he was officiating.
Still, that wasn’t the annoying part. Oh no.
That came when the Barclay Stand mocked Moss with customary sarcasm, for not telling Manchester City to get on with it as they took their time over a corner. The sight of what effectively was the entirety of Carrow Road telling the ref to get on with it, with that rolling-hands gesture, was hilarious.
What wasn’t, was Moss acknowledging the effort of those fans by applauding them. What happened to the idea that a referee who isn’t noticed is the one who is doing their job properly?
Not one person was inside Carrow Road to watch the referee – apart from the assessor. That sentiment seems to get forgotten by too many officials when they step out for a top-flight game.
3 – Now really isn’t the time for an injury crisis
You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – which in this case, seems to stand for ‘luck with injuries’.
Perhaps it’s not the sort of thing you talk about when things are going well, for fear of talking up anything untoward. But the reality is the Canaries have actually had things pretty good as of late in terms of absences.
Which is great – until the tide turns. And at the moment, that seems to be where Norwich find themselves.
First of course was Alex Tettey, with his lay-off now confirmed as lasting for the rest of the current campaign.
Sebastien Bassong has already been out for a few weeks, while Steven Naismith and Robbie Brady were not as close to making Saturday’s game as Alex Neil let on beforehand. Hopefully it will be a different story come Saturday’s trip to West Brom.
Of course, maybe not all of these players would have featured – but in some ways it’s also about options, and for once City looked short of them from the bench against the Citizens when Nathan Redmond went down with his own ankle knock.
The extent of that injury is still to be revealed but more than most, Norwich cannot afford to have Redmond out for any significant period of time, at such a crucial stage in the season.
4 – Alex Neil now has a defensive formula he doesn’t need to change
Norwich City’s game-management deserved praise on Saturday – but it would be careless to ignore the fact they actually had something to hold on to helped them out.
It was an improvement on the likes of Liverpool and West Ham, but maybe a different context to a game like Chelsea. And in a way, a similar logic should extend to Alex Neil’s team selection.
Saturday’s back four were superb. John Ruddy did his job behind them, while Jonny Howson and Gary O’Neil were so influential in front. And speaking as someone who all season has felt Martin Olsson behind Robbie Brady is City’s best left-side combination, it was great to see the Swede make such an assured return to the fold.
There were good, comfortable partnerships all over the piece for Alex Neil to enjoy – to the extend that those should be given the chance to prove they weren’t a one-trick pony and they will chase Callum McManaman as hard as they chased Sergio Aguero.
Surely sometimes it only confuses the issue to make sure you’ve got the height to deal with this or pace to deal with that – rather than play your best side and let opponents worry about you.
5 – Carrier bags are the new clap banners
It’s no doubt been a source of intrigue for Norwich City fans that Leicester’s remarkable run of top-flight form has coincided with their use of clap banners – a show of support unlikely to be seen at Carrow Road again for some time, given the unfortunate way things panned out for Chris Hughton two seasons ago.
So I’m sure there had been plenty of conversations in the corridors of power at Carrow Road over what else they could do to make that mark when things got a little bit tough.
Step forward… carrier bags! Yellow and green in colour, of course.
I must admit, I’m still not exactly sure what they were supposed to spell out across the stands of Carrow Road as the two teams came out, but that still didn’t stop the sight of yellow and green stripes impressing.
That was also the feeling for Timm Klose, whose praise of the Norwich City faithful not only – and most importantly – included the noise they generated throughout the game. It also accounted for the yellow and green walls as he walked out.
At this point, every little really does help.
6 – This time, complacency can be the Canaries’ friend
For a side that was supposed to be fighting for their title-chasing lives, Manchester City were sloppy, dawdling and short of what was needed to take all three points – and that’s regardless of how well Norwich played, even if it most certainly contributed.
In fact, you could say Manchester City’s performance resembled a few pre-match factors. Those like the official club feed tweeting 24 hours before kick-off asking how many goals their side would score at Norwich – options ranged from one to ‘more than three’, so you assume no one got it right.
Then there was the innuendo of Sergio Aguero being just two goals away from breaking into Manchester City’s all-time top 10 goalscorers. I mean, surely he was going to score at least a hat-trick anyway?!
That complacency did Norwich a big favour – and needn’t stop at Saturday.
Nationally the press seem to assume Norwich have gone. The three-horse race for survival, to them, is actually a duel between the manager yet to be relegated, and the one in charge of Real Madrid not so long ago. Two huge characters who have history – and can play out their big survival battle.
Oh for City to take that and just like the weekend, turn it all in their favour.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey