Signs of life for Norwich City - but, please, no more false dawns
PUBLISHED: 09:29 19 March 2016
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I'm not sure whether my overriding emotion after watching the Manchester City game was pride in the commitment shown by every player or annoyance that such determination has appeared lacking in so many key games this season.
Nevertheless, the rot has been stopped and now there is something to build on. However, the result will count for nothing unless it’s swiftly followed by more as a three-way shootout develops between City, Newcastle and Sunderland for 17th place.
I think we’ve all become a little fixated on the magical 40-point mark, but with all three sides averaging well under a point a game it currently seems that a realistic survival target may well be in the mid-30s.
Obviously we will have to wait and see how the Newcastle impressed at Leicester, but whether they can maintain that intensity throughout a tough run-in remains to be seen.
Sunderland have also battled well in recent weeks, but you have to feel that after years of avoiding the drop their luck has to run out some time.
City’s fate is still very much in their own hands with the games against their two north-east rivals looking massive. However, there are other winnable games to come, starting today at West Brom, and at last there are signs Alex Neil is close to finding the right formula for the run-in.
There are a number of reasons why there is now some light at the end of what has been a long dark tunnel. The first is the return to form of John Ruddy, who has been impeccable in recent weeks and once again looks like the imposing figure he was last season. While Declan Rudd did a good job in his stead he never commanded his box in the way Ruddy can.
Secondly, Timm Klose is starting to perform like the quality centre back City have needed all season. His ability to read the game is exceptional and his comfort on the ball has brought a calmness to the defence which was frequently absent during Sebastien Bassong’s tenure. Klose’s fledgling partnership with Ryan Bennett looks effective, and was clearly aided by the selection of two specialist full-backs.
There has been an element of accommodation in some of Neil’s selections, particularly since Christmas, but against Manchester City players were used in their accustomed positions and the result was a team that looked well balanced and defensively solid, with Russell Martin and Martin Olsson producing possibly their best performances of the season.
The third reason is the performance of City’s two central midfielders. There was concern when Alex Tettey was ruled out for the season, but the pairing of Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson centrally has worked well and makes full use of two of the best football brains in the squad as well as two of the biggest hearts.
Finally, whilst Norwich were always likely to find their chances to throw players forward severely limited against a side as good as Manchester City, Patrick Bamford provided signs is intelligent movement may lead to more than the scraps that he was restricted to against Manchester City.
However, while there are at last some positives to cling to only a hopeless optimist could get too carried away on the back of one result.
There have been too many false dawns; this time the talking in press conferences has to be backed by deeds on the pitch.