Another Wolves banner, lukewarm support, the brilliance of protective boots and class of Paul Lambert – Six things we learned from Norwich City’s Championship win over Wolverhampton Wanderers
PUBLISHED: 11:45 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 17:08 23 January 2017
As Norwich City showed the Wolves visitors through the Carrow Road door, Michael Bailey offers his six big observations.
1 – Class from PL and the Barclay
Saturday had all the potential to be the most toxic afternoon of the season at Carrow Road. When City boss Alex Neil noted post-match how big the game was – siting Jez Moxey and Paul Lambert coming up against their former clubs, he was indirectly acknowledging exactly that. Some of the angst would have headed his way too.
So fair play to Carrow Road, who made no audible reference to their former Scottish boss during the game – save a couple of jokes from Lambert’s past cohorts in the City Stand. Instead, they waited until the final whistle, until Lambert finished thanking the Wolves fans, and duly gave a rousing reception that any successive promotion-winning manager would deserve.
Perhaps the dynamic of the game allowed a degree of separation, while the end of Lambert’s unbeaten run against City since walking out for Villa makes everything more magnanimous. Either way, it doesn’t matter.
Wolves will benefit from a Paul Lambert who seems relaxed, energised and able to rise to that challenge like he did here.
And City have rightly said thank you, once again.
2 – There was no hiding the reality
Debates over the state of the atmosphere at Carrow Road are far from new. It’s been hit and miss for years – be it due to the players not offering a spark, or the fans waiting to be entertained. Plans continue to be drawn over how to improve things. No doubt suggestions and ideas will continue to flow.
But Saturday was a different case in point.
For the opening hour, it felt like City supporters had turned up out of duty; as if they had nothing better to do with their time. On top of that, more than ever seemed desperate to dig people out – be it in the boardroom or dressing room. It took 38 minutes for anyone to sing a positive song about a City individual – no prizes for guessing who.
That was the reality – an atmosphere somewhere between palpable apathy and tightly-sprung rebellion waiting to unravel.
This isn’t a criticism of it. More an observation; observing a mood that should shake the Norwich boardroom to its core.
Because if City don’t truly improve their form, such a malaise will soon translate into a total lack of enjoyment – and then, a lack of being bothered to pay to go in the first place.
3 – Carl should look closer to home
Whenever any player admits they mulled over whether to tweet what they were about to tweet, it usually means they’d be best off keeping their fingers off the keys.
Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme clearly felt – still feels – aggrieved over his red card. He is adamant Wes Hoolahan dived to win the initial penalty, before diving when he shoved him to the ground as Ikeme let frustration get the better of him.
There’s no doubt both Wes and Matt Doherty went down easily for the penalties – but Ivo Pinto should not be putting his hands in Doherty’s back, and Ikeme shouldn’t be racing out and clattering into Wes. Both gave the referee a decision to make, and he got those decisions right.
But for Ikeme to react as he did, as a goalkeeper, when his boss is trying to win a game by having already made three substitutions, is arguably the most stupid thing that’s taken place at Carrow Road this season.
Lambert obviously protected his man in public, but Ikeme only really needed to tweet one word: Sorry.
4 – All hail the protective boot!
Did you guess who’s name the crowd first sung? Yep, Jonny Howson.
It must have been a tough week for him. Last Saturday ended with his ankle in a protective boot – the same ankle he’d had surgery on just a few weeks previous.
Maybe if he’d remained fit at Rotherham, City would’ve salvaged something. Given how well Howson played against Wolves, it’s hard not to be adamant about it.
It’s not often one player has such a clear influence on proceedings as Jonny did on Saturday, and it reiterated how important he is to City enjoying any success each week.
The fact he remains a City player and almost impervious to speculation is far from because he’s not good enough – and it should be welcomed.
Elsewhere, it’s all about looking for clues. From players offering a lingering wave at full-time, to giving away their shirts or even taking a little longer over their applause of the fans before disappearing down the tunnel. For the last time? Who knows.
The rest of this month will do so much to dictate exactly what City’s aims are from here – more so than any words.
5 – City fans love a Wolves banner
Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City and banners. There’s a rich history here.
The fact a Wolves fan spent time before the second leg of the 2002 play-off semi-final carefully putting together a sheet that proudly stated at Molineux “You’ve let us down again” showed a disdain for belief that has gone down in infamy with those fans of a certain age at Carrow Road. Much like the life and crimes of Mr Kevin Muscat.
This time round there was less humour, as Wolves fans lifted a banner lamenting Jez Moxey’s 16 years at Wolves. They chanted they wanted him out, even though he’s already gone, and that chant caught much more momentum through the Barclay and Snakepit than any wanting the same result for Alex Neil.
It was a curious state of affairs, at a time in the match where as I’ve said, the tightly-sprung rebellion found reason for a brief moment of release.
Moxey is an astute guy. He is also in a very different situation to the one he had at Wolves, where the AGM consisted of just him and Steve Morgan.
If he’s not listening, it’s only going to get worse.
6 – Home form contradicts the 2015 rush
As I talked through various points with Jonny Howson in the mixed zone, City’s differing home and away form kept coming up.
As things stand, only four teams have picked up more points on home turf than Norwich: Brighton, Huddersfield and Leeds, who have played a game more at home than the other three.
However, on the road only four teams have lost more games than Norwich: Nottingham Forest, Bristol City, Blackburn and of course, Rotherham United.
The only thing that could make this more stark is Alex Neil’s first six months in charge, when City dropped just six points on the road under Neil. Their away form was a country mile clear of anyone else – yet at home, they were only the fifth-best performers.
So what’s the difference? We’ll all have our own theories on that – but at least a run of four wins from five games at Carrow Road offers some solace in what City will manage from here until May.
All they need to do now, is resist the fact Gianfranco Zola will arrive next Saturday still yet to register a win since taking over as manager at Birmingham.