Our bipolar squad has been pummelled this season. They’ve let their guard slip time an again and have spent a lot of time on the canvas. None more so than on Tuesday when Millwall delivered a near-knockout blow (imagine that?) When Norwich took an unassailable two-goal lead at the KCOM, our already wobbly legs were shaking like a Turkey’s knees on Christmas eve. But from somewhere they showed grit, intelligence and maturity that no one knew they had and produced a thrilling response that brought cheers and smiles to a ground that has been steeped in misery all season.
Aina – Dawson – Mazuch – Clark
Larsson – Henriksen
Bowen – Irvine – Wilson
Other than an enforced change in goal, City started as they finished on Tuesday. And they started well. They pressed and harried Norwich in midfield with Irvine pushing right up without the ball and setting the tone. Norwich arrived in great form but their ten outfield, dressed as Tinky-Winky, looked a bit Dipsy under pressure and were soon in La-La land (Sorry.) Bowen split their defence early but Henriksen passed straight to the keeper. Then Irvine crossed for Hernández, who’d lost both centre halves, but his header on the stretch went straight to Angus Gunn again. Then came the breakthrough. City passed well again, Wilson slid the ball down the left and Irvine made an excellent run across and behind the defence and tucked the ball home with his left foot despite the tight angle and the desperate attempts of a defender.
We could have had a penalty when Irvine was blatantly pushed in the back, Irvine tried to pass to Hernández when Bowen slid him in on the right, Dawson headed an excellent Larsson corner over and Wilson brilliantly shimmied through them on the left but shot straight at the keeper again. It could have been 4-0. It should have been. City were utterly in control of the “fight”. So best avoid any gut-wrenching punches to the abdomen, eh, boys?
They knocked the ball into the right channel, Marshall raced from goal and took the lad down on the corner of the penalty area. The linesman thought it was a free kick, the Norwich players strenuously pointed out the markings inside the box and after some deliberation the ref guessed it was a penalty – and guessed right from my viewpoint. James Maddison slid the penalty home. Before the seething could even get out the words “Bloody Marshall” we were behind. Maddison turned Aina inside and out, found a stupid amount of space in the box and lashed a shot that went right under Marshall at the near post. Poor defending, awful keeping. And Maddison doesn’t need any help. He’s a slight player with a poxy haircut but he’s outstanding. I saw him play for Coventry against our U21s at North Ferriby a few years ago and he was the best player on the pitch by miles. With his unerring confidence, intelligent use of the ball, set piece delivery and eye for goal – he’s going places.
To their credit, City responded well to that massive setback when you could have hardly blamed them for collapsing so fragile is our confidence. But despite taking the game to Norwich again we fell further behind in ridiculous circumstances when Mazuch clumsily felled Onel Hernández in the corner of the area where he was going absolutely nowhere. A ludicrous decision from a player who always improves our defence hugely but a soft one nonetheless. Maddison found the other corner with this penalty and you could have funded the Northern powerhouse if you harnessed the heads shaking in the KCOM Stadium.
City responded again though and the ref awarded a third penalty of the half. Bowen was fouled in the box. It was a really soft one but a foul anywhere else on the pitch so why not? Hernández tucked it away inside the right hand post and after five minutes added, the craziest half of the season ended 2-3.
I fancied us to get something out of the game. I was worried that our key players like Hernández and Wilson wouldn’t last long enough for us to turn it around but the way we’d played justified confidence and the players came out after half time looking like they thought the same. Larsson delivered a free kick from the right that was headed clear by the first man but the ref immediately whistled and pointed for a penalty. I think it was for some holding on Irvine but no-one really knew what was going on. Perhaps Andy Crosby’s little chat with the ref as they came onto the pitch affected his conscience, who knows? Hernández didn’t worry about that, he just smashed the penalty into the roof of the next for his sixth goal of the season. In minutes, he’s played less than four games this season.
The game swung both ways at 3-3. Irvine deflected a Wilson shot goalwards and Aina brilliantly raced 70 yards down the pitch and crossed to find no-one had gambled on it. Then Norwich controlled the ball for a spell with City chasing them around midfield as Maddison tried to make something happen. We defended the balls in well and their was little drama but there’s no doubt they were in the ascendancy as Campbell replaced Hernández on the hour.
Campbell’s introduction helped City find a second wind and Bowen and Wilson came into their own. Irvine continued to chase everything. Gunn spilled a shot from Bowen poorly but Campbell couldn’t get to it and Wilson’s follow-up was blocked. Wilson then ran at them and found Bowen whose shot was pushed wide. They found Hernández on the counter and his shot squirmed wide possibly via the bar. And then we only went and won it. Campbell broke down the right and found Henriksen, he beautifully passed to Bowen who gave it to Wilson, he cut inside the defender and curled a shot past Gunn with his left foot. It’s a long time since that much joy has erupted from a crowd at this stadium.
We were fairly comfortable on the lead. Campbell nearly stretched it when his volley at the near post was saved and then Aina broke from his own half again but got giddy and shot straight at Gunn. They headed straight at Marshall as stoppage time approached and Adkins used his last sub (Toral had replaced Bowen) to put Hector on to defend balls into the box. There were none.
So ended a breathless encounter. I’ve tried to work out when City last came back from two goals down to win. Any advance on the 5-4 win at Orient in November 1984? It’s certainly a rare feat. West Ham at home in November 2009 is the only time I can recall it nearly happening since.
The team and manager deserve huge credit for producing a performance like this after the week they’d had up too about 15:44. Their attitude and tactics were spot on. Who knows if they could have carried it off against Millwall if not for the first minute goal seriously altering their plans?
We’ve always known there is ability in this squad. It’s far greater than the sum of it’s parts. Hopefully we’ll see that now. Hernández didn’t just score but battled against their centre halves to get hold of the ball. Wilson looks a fantastic prospect who is enjoying his time here. Bowen has a new lease of life after struggling under Adkins’ demands for more defensive effort. Henriksen has had two fine games this week despite being a target for everyone’s discontent. Mazuch is our best defender all-round despite the very odd braindead decision. Larsson was back to his best. Aina had his best game for us. Irvine is outstanding. Clark and Dawson stuck their heads and feet in were needed.
Don’t get carried away yet though. Every time we get a performance from this squad and the league table starts to look rosy, a setback is on the way. But until Tuesday at least, we can enjoy a thoroughly brilliant performance and a comeback not seen for many a year. Knockout.
Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)