Chris Goreham: Why City's win was bigger than the three points against Owls
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Rugby fans don’t know what they’re missing out on.
At Carrow Road on Saturday there was another reminder that many of sport’s most memorable moments occur after the 80th minute.
Norwich City have made a habit of it this season. It was good of the Canaries to put on a greatest hits show for the 2,000 fans who were finally allowed to watch their team in the flesh. The win over Sheffield Wednesday summed up what the campaign has been like so far. Norwich found a way to win without hitting the heights we all know they are capable of.
It wasn’t all their fault. For 80 minutes the Tony Pulis masterplan worked perfectly. Wednesday made it feel like they wouldn’t concede in a month of Sundays. They succeeded in frustrating City for long periods just as Derby, Birmingham, Wycombe and Millwall had done behind closed doors earlier in the campaign. The Owls even took the lead. That Josh Windass header was the perfect reminder for those returning supporters that football is often more frustrating than it is fun.
It also has a habit of drawing you back in just when you begin to wonder whether giving up every Saturday afternoon is really worthwhile. It was Daniel Farke’s turn to show that sound tactical thinking doesn’t just emanate from underneath a baseball cap.
It was like going to see your favourite band and wondering whether they were ever going to play their most famous song.
Then, just as you’ve become resigned to it only being material from the new album, the old favourites are belted out during the encore. A promising youngster from the academy on the scoresheet for the first time, a flurry of late goals and Mario Vrancic turning on the style.
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If Emi Buendia had played the two passes that led to Josh Martin and Max Aarons scoring people would have been talking in terms of him replacing Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
Buendia is brilliant but with late winners to beat Brimingham and Wycombe and two sublime assists here Vrancic has been responsible for the big moments that have taken City to the top of The Championship.
Daniel Farke, you old tease. The magic was still there but after a 9-month wait to return to Carrow Road another 80 minutes was never going to hurt. Farke milked it further at full-time by making the supporters wait for his traditional celebration.
But for social distancing he might have crowd surfed to the back of the South Stand, across the car park and out into the Norfolk night.
The romantic in me wants to write this up as a story in which the supporters lifted the team, hauled them back into the game and roared them onto an unlikely victory.
The trouble is that Norwich have scored so many late goals behind closed doors recently that it wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Farke is adamant the club’s current injury crisis isn’t down to him pushing the players too hard in training.
That may well be the case but he’s certainly constructed a yellow and green machine that can keep going for the full 90 minutes even after a gruelling Championship week.
The result was important but not as big as the fact that fans were allowed to return. This time the shiver down my spine was caused by ‘On The Ball City’ being belted out at kick-off and not through fear of players being able to hear us commentating. The opportunity to talk to some familiar faces on the way into the ground and to have a cheer to compete with on the radio when Norwich scored. That’s what’s really been missing.
The last time Carrow Road was full Norwich beat Leicester City 1-0 with a goal from Jamal Lewis. Saturday brought another tense victory with the winner courtesy of a full back plucked from the academy. It was like the fans had never been away.
A numbers game
It’s the season of peace and goodwill to all men and this year has taught us a lot about the importance of being kind. I managed to get through an entire 90 minutes on Saturday without mentioning this but I can’t keep quiet for any longer.
The worst thing about Sheffield Wednesday’s appearance at Carrow Road was their shirts. I’m no fashionista, that’s why they put me on the radio rather than TV, but they committed what commentators see as the ultimate sartorial crime.
Striped shirts are all very well but it can be impossible to pick out the player’s numbers. My heart sank when they ran out at five to three with gold numbers on a blue and white background. With my eyesight and the distance from the gantry to the pitch it took a while for me to separate my Josh Windass from my Adam Reach. Which comedian was it who used to tell a joke about not knowing whether it was Shrove Tuesday or Sheffield Wednesday?
I am self-aware enough to realise that with everything that’s going on in the world nothing says ‘first world problem’ more clearly than a commentator complaining. I am only bringing it up now because some of the supporters who were in the ground mentioned on social media that they were also struggling. Aside from being sat behind a pillar and losing your pencil case it’s difficult to think of anything that winds the commentary community up more than numbers that are difficult to read. It’s not going too far to say the six-point deduction handed down to Wednesday this season feels like a suitable punishment. The real story is that it was given for breaching spending rules but it’s not those numbers that are most troubling for some of us.
I was almost tempted to join in with the reassuring sound of booing that was back at Carrow Road after a long absence. The fans below us treated Wednesday’s Moses Odubajo as their pantomime villain for a foul on Emi Buendia At least I think it was him.