Connor Southwell: Canaries victory over Guardiola and co still surreal one year on
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It was a result that should never have happened.
Norwich City were Premier League newboys fresh from being brandished with a naive tag for their approach in the opening fixture of the season against Liverpool.
Their transfer expenditure was minimal, the expectations were being tempered by the club’s top brass who were comparing top-flight survival to an ascent of Mount Everest.
So, when you add in an injury-list that defied belief, any chance that the Canaries had of overcoming global powerhouse Manchester City seemed to be falling by the second.
With a depleted squad, an inability to spend and a team containing a mixture of free transfers and academy graduates, you could have forgiven even the most optimistic of City followers for predicting score lines that resembled a cricket score.
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Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions arrived at Carrow Road with a team sheet oozing with world class talent. From Sergio Aguero to Raheem Sterling - on paper, there was seemingly only ever one outcome.
The visitors even had the facility to leave creative midfielder Kevin De Bruyne on the bench, as was the plethora of talent freely available to Guardiola.
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But everyone knows that football matches aren’t won on paper. It is what makes the game such a romantic entity even in the era of top-flight affluence. David can still conquer Goliath.
Those inside the walls at Colney were less keen to get carried away by the victory - after all, this wasn’t non-league Havant and Waterlooville taking the lead at Anfield or Hereford United beating Newcastle United in the FA Cup.
City were, by right, a top-flight side. But the context in this fixture is what makes it so memorable.
Even personally, this game represented my first as a Norwich City reporter for the Eastern Daily Press, Evening News and the Pink Un. I recall turning to my colleagues before kick-off stating, somewhat tongue in cheek, that a 5-0 defeat would be a let-off for City.
I must confess, when Kenny McLean rose highest to nod in from a corner, I had my head firmly in my laptop. I missed the goal. The roar that followed however, gave me goosebumps as Carrow Road seemed to explode and become a cauldron of disbelief and ecstasy.
You could sense some supporters turning to their friends, families or strangers and laughing. This was not in the script. This was not supposed to happen. Even landing a punch on the champions was a surprise.
The second goal turned punters into believers. Once again, football was writing its own unexpected tale and everyone in the ground was fixated on every element.
So when City broke the Manchester City press deploying the philosophy that proved so success in their Championship title-winning season, many felt it served as justification and stuck two-fingers up at the pundits who questioned their sanity after the openness of their display at Liverpool.
Emi Buendia to Marco Stiepermann to Teemu Pukki to Todd Cantwell. 2-0.
As Cantwell surfed in front of the South Stand, the shock turned to unadulterated joy. With a seven-player strong injury list including Max Aarons, Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose - this wasn’t the way many expected the game to transpire.
Aguero’s header on the cusp of half-time poured some reality in City’s glass of optimism, the roars were suddenly replaced by nerves. Finger nails were getting smaller by the minute.
Half-time offered everyone a moment to catch their breath from this thrilling soap opera, but soon after the interval, City had extended their lead.
In the press box, I was once again typing away, constructing a match report for a game that needed no picture to be painted. Thankfully, when Buendia robbed Otamendi of the ball, the crowd’s excitement made me push my head above the screen just in time for the Argentine to square the ball to Pukki.
Those films where the action slips into slow motion sometimes seem false but the ball seemed to take an age to hit the back of the net. Everyone in the ground took a simultaneous intake of breath.
But he scored. City found themselves 3-1 up. Nerves had once again turned to elation and with 40-minutes left on the clock, people began to believe.
De Bruyne entered the pitch. Still no goal. Still the clock ticked. Gabriel Jesus came on. Still no change.
Those supporters in the ground sang like their lives depended on it. Every sliding tackle was met with a roaring standing ovation, everyone of a yellow and green persuasion were left crossing their fingers and praying for divine intervention from the footballing gods.
Rodri’s late goal was enough to create anxiety amongst supporters. City’s defence stood firm and the scenes at the final whistle were unlike anything witnessed in recent times.
All that was left was for Farke to orchestrate the oles but even then some supporters left with their hands on their head, refusing to believe what they just witnessed.
Last season’s Premier League campaign didn’t offer many opportunities for joy but this fixture is one that lives long in the memory. One that supporters, and members of the press, will be left recalling for the rest of their days.
‘I was there...’