How Norwich City’s psychological resilience at the Hawthorns gave us all hope

Gary ONeil and Claudio Yacob in action. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Gary ONeil and Claudio Yacob in action. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

At the beginning of 1813, it wasn’t easy being an Austrian. Relentless European warfare since the staggering rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 had plunged the nation into economic, political and military turmoil.

Her defeats at Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805 and Wagram in 1809 had humiliated her on an international scale. Her military potency was limited, and her generals all too frequently proved themselves as fundamentally incapable of thwarting the expansionist threat of the French. Her prospects were bleak.

Just over two centuries on, and Norwich City fans find themselves in a not too dissimilar situation. Whilst the presence of a tyrannical military leader and a continual state of continental conflict may be absent, the all too common disillusionment experienced by the Canaries’ faithful inevitability means we can empathise with those poor Austrians. Failure to win in ten matches before Saturday combined with a multitude of ultimately gutless performances away from home had left us with little hope.

West Bromwich Albion beckoned, but optimism surely remained sparse. City, even with the finessed Tim Klose at the back, had still failed to keep an away clean sheet, whilst despite the presence of a rejuvenated Patrick Bamford up front still appeared incapable of scoring a goal. But Saturday witnessed one of the most mentally tough, tenacious and resilient Norwich City performances I have ever had the pleasure of spectating.

Our victory at the Hawthorns was all us fans had been craving for since that glorious January day when Alex Tettey’s sublime finish provided us with that much missed winning feeling: unity, resolve and organisation in defence, composure, indefatigability and creativity in midfield, and physicality, ball retention and support up front.

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Bar a somewhat underwhelming first half, City really were superb. John Ruddy is beginning to prove to us all that dropping him back in December was an error. Martin Olsson again demonstrated his considerable value to this team that has so badly begged for a genuine left-back to play at left-back, thus liberating the outstanding Robbie Brady into his naturally more advanced position on the wing. Timm Klose has already gone a long way towards justifying his nine-million-pound transfer fee, whilst Gary O’Neil’s headband seems to have brought renewed life and energy into the midfield. The often maligned Diermerci Mbokani excelled at holding the ball up, bringing others into the game and critically creating the opportunity that led to Brady’s decisive goal.

On Saturday’s evidence, Norwich should stay up. The fixtures remain very much in our favour: with Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle as well as Sunderland both travelling to Carrow Road in April, the defensive organisation, midfield cohesion and continual presence up front that was witnessed on Saturday should be enough to thwart their respective threats. With Crystal Palace still very much enduring a torrid run of form, our trip to Selhurst Park in three weeks has become increasingly important in the context of both City’s and their season.

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Alex Neil must be applauded, too. His tactics at the weekend were superb, boldly deploying our two best strikers in tandem. Mbokani relentlessly tormented Jonas Olson, continually winning headers, strongly holding the ball up and bringing others into play. His work for Brady’s goal was outstanding: strength, directness and a good pass to Jarvis for his somewhat unconventional assist.

Although yet to score for City, Patrick Bamford’s performance was nonetheless promising, pressing high with pace and constantly working hard until his 74th minute substitution. Bamford and Mbokani complimented each other well: a synthesis of pace and strength, hard work and power, flamboyance and physicality. On Saturday’s testimony – despite the imminent return of Wes Hoolahan – Neil must persist with two strikers in the important fixtures that remain.

Such a tactic was facilitated by the tenacity of the midfielders, Jonny Howson and Gary O’Neil. Whilst the presence of a third midfielder was sacrificed by Neil on the grounds of playing the two strikers, Howson and O’Neil were not overrun, working indefatigably to protect the back four, winning possession and distributing it to the flanks where City held a perpetual threat. Jarvis and Brady were excellent, frequently switching wings and running at defenders with menace and pace.

The performance in the midlands gave us all faith. A renewed sense of confidence, belief, and spirit palpably emerged, manifesting itself audibly at the full time whistle. ‘We are staying up’ we sung jubilantly, lauding our fourteen heroes who had given it everything to push us out of the bottom three. Klose looked joyous, breaking away from the plethora of high-fives to clench his fists triumphantly. Mbokani managed a rare smile, whilst the much improved Russell Martin waved ecstatically to the masses of green and yellow.

Following the result, the bookies had us as favourites to stay up, ahead of Newcastle and Sunderland whose draw on Sunday made it the perfect weekend for Norwich. Too right they did. City’s unity, tenacity, cohesion and mentality was superb at the Hawthorns, instilling us all with a common confidence that we genuinely can avoid the drop. If Ruddy remains solid, if Klose continues to organise the back four, if the midfield keeps working hard and the system of two up front remains effective, we will do it.

Against all the odds in 1813, the Austrians and the rest of Europe united to finally defeat Napoleon. If they could do it, then so can we.

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