Michael Bailey: It's the moment to prove Norwich City's monumental progress

Opinion

The faces say it all as Moritz Leitner misses Norwich City's golden chance against Bolton at Carrow Road last season - and a lot has happened since then. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

The faces say it all as Moritz Leitner misses Norwich City’s golden chance against Bolton at Carrow Road last season – and a lot has happened since then. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

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In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey recalls one of his key memories last season and its place come this weekend.

It was for me, one of the images from last season – seared into the mind the moment it happened.

Moritz Leitner, hailed as a player of such talent that Norwich City were lucky to have him. Through on goal towards the end of the first half against Bolton. The wait spread through Carrow Road. All that needed to happen was the net bulge.

Instead, the ball whistled beyond Ben Alnwick’s far post, the Canaries’ home crowd gasped in amazement and most striking of all was the reaction of his team-mates.

Onel Hernandez looked positively livid. Harrison Reed turned back towards the dugouts flailing his arms. As for the rest, disbelief was enough on its own. For all the good intentions, Leitner’s talent wasn’t enough to beat Wanderers that February day. For all Norwich’s excellent first-half efforts, the second was pure frustration.

No rallying cries from the home crowd or the utopia of unconditional support; more a resignation at another two points dropped – at best – and the feeling City’s grand plan was never going to become anything more substantial.

Such moments from the 2017-18 campaign could not be put in more stark contrast, as the current season ticks along at a rate of knots matched only by City’s accumulation of points.

While Leitner seems likely to miss this weekend through injury, his talent could not be held in higher esteem. We all falter at times – since which, Mo has more than proved the real deal. It’s just a shame he won’t get his own shot at righting a wrong.

Still, at least he has a wedding to celebrate – so here’s to you, Mr and Mrs Leitner.

Ed Balls applauds Norwich City off the pitch against Rotherham - just hours before it was confirmed he will be standing down as chairman at Carrow Road on Boxing Day. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus ImagesEd Balls applauds Norwich City off the pitch against Rotherham – just hours before it was confirmed he will be standing down as chairman at Carrow Road on Boxing Day. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

We have all said and written so much about City’s progress on the pitch. Their improved dynamism, goal threat and ruthlessness.

But at Carrow Road, it is what has happened in the stands that has caught my imagination.

It had become a routine discussion at the end of each Pink Un Show that preceded a Norwich visit from some struggling side or other: City would have to deal with the crowd, be it an early concession or lack of an early breakthrough.

Frustration and expectation were their enemy, as much as the team up the other end.

Right now, however, that simply doesn’t exist. In Rotherham and Millwall, City were facing games they were expected and expecting to win.

The expectation has returned – and then some – since the floundering of last season. Neither game was an easy ride either. Far from it.

And yet, there was indeed that incredible mix evident in the stands of unconditional support and will to drive their team on through thick or thin. The only targets for ire were the opposition or officials.

It’s hard to put a finger on how and why, but Carrow Road’s unique take on current life is something special and a huge weapon in City’s arsenal this season.

And if you’ve got a yellow and/or green scarf at home and you’re going to the Bolton game, take it with you. So much of what is happening around the club at the moment involves such pride in what it is and how much it means.

That includes pride in the colours, and making the point by 26,000 fans holding them high when the teams run out just before 3pm.

It’s been quite the time of it for Bolton too, since that goalless draw at Carrow Road back in February.

This season started with the look of a corner having being turned, all of course with the arrivals of Yanic Wildschut and Remi Matthews on loan. But the tale has been rather more difficult – and expected – on the pitch since then, with the picture off the pitch even worse.

Wages being paid late to the players and a need to assure the squad that, come yesterday they would receive what was owed (and the suggestion still they still haven’t) doesn’t seem likely to produce a galvanised group.

And with Bolton already harbouring the longest winless run in the Championship heading into the weekend, it seems unlikely they will be able to compete with City’s feel-good ahead of kick-off.

In past seasons, that would probably have had everyone worried – but the Canaries have already done a lot to make you think that this might not be your average Norwich City season.

It passed quite quietly off the back of another excellent Championship comeback – which maybe is understandable for a job that was supposed to be temporary.

But fair play to Ed Balls, who lived the dream and played his part in kicking off Norwich City’s new era – plus all that it is delivering.

Balls will no doubt have plenty to keep him busy following his Boxing Day departure, while City can spend a year working out who will get to chair the 2019 AGM.

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