While the fans grow increasingly terrified, Dan Brigham says Norwich must channel their inner assassins and take the emotion out of Saturday’s game against Sunderland. Just like they did at Wembley. Easy
Have you watched back Norwich's win at Wembley? Of course you have. It's a strange game, isn't it. Almost clinical. Almost perfect.
Fifteen minutes of surgically frenzied attacking. Passes are forward. The movement is balletic. The tackling is crisp, the pressing magnetic. And those two goals. The first, a triumph of old-school bullying and persistence. The second, a masterclass in possession.
Then came the next 75 minutes. Very little happened. Norwich dropped a bit deeper. The passes were more sideways. The frenzy died down to a shuffle, and then Norwich were back in the Premier League. First they kicked Middlesbrough savagely in the guts, then they slowly asphyxiated them. It was the perfect kill.
In front of 80,000 people, Norwich had turned into emotionless assassins. After all, emotions get in the way of doing the job properly. Emotions cause people to make mistakes. Emotions can clutter the mind. There was no charging recklessly into tackles, no losing control, no steaming out of position. It takes guts to remain that dispassionate when it matters most, to pick the incisive pass rather than take the option. By being cool, calm and collected, rather than overwrought and over-emotional, Norwich produced the bravest performance of the season on the biggest stage.
Those lessons will need to be repeated on Saturday against Sunderland, when Sam Allardyce brings his team of seasoned escapologists to Carrow Road. This won't be an occasion for putting the boot in. It's an occasion for keeping their heads, rather than galloping around aimlessly like a shitfaced horse in a desperate attempt to look passionate. To be more Jonny Howson against Newcastle, less Gary O'Neil against Stoke.
Getting too emotional, too worked up, can be a disaster in sport. Liverpool's title challenge in 2013-14 was doomed as soon as Steven Gerrard tried to channel Braveheart after each game, and instead ended up channelling Miranda Hart (that's not hindsight, it was pretty clear at the time). In 1995-96, Newcastle were top of the league when their manager Kevin Keegan reacted to the slightest of Alex Ferguson provocations by blowing up like a man who'd just had his swimming trunks pulled down in front of hundreds of people at Center Parcs, producing the infamous “I would love it” rant. On hearing that, Fergie would have lit up a cigar and chugged a bottle of incredibly expensive wine, safe in the knowledge that a hysterical Keegan had just handed Manchester United the title. Phil Brown's Patridgesque on-pitch ticking off of his Hull players in 2008 was the beginning of the end for him. Brazil were beaten in the World Cup semi-final against Germany before a ball had even been kicked due to their insane, operatic reaction to Neymar being injured.
Fans might like to see players issuing rallying cries and looking like they care deeply, and we all love to see a defender flying into a tackle, but being dispassionate and dead-eyed on the pitch beats passionate and wild-eyed every time. Del Boy was right: play it cool, Trig, play it cool.
Many of the finest sportspeople have a reptilian ability to stay cool and focused under the most immense pressure. The likes of Roger Federer, Jonny Wilkinson, Lionel Messi, Steffi Graf, Johan Cruyff, Tiger Woods, Victoria Pendleton, Michael Schumacher and Sachin Tendulkar don't switch on during the heat of the battle, they switch off. They simmer down into a zone where all outside interference is blocked out, where all is calm, where all that matters is the next pass, the next putt, the next delivery. Their facial expression never changes. It's almost unnatural, somehow un-human, and you might not want to be their mate, and you definitely wouldn't want to play them at Monopoly, but it's what sets the best sportspeople apart.
Sure, a few have used emotions to raise their game – John McEnroe, Andrew Flintoff, Serena Williams; but even wild boys like Ronnie O'Sullivan and Maradona are and were at their best when they were able to filter out the more unpredictable parts of their character, to retreat from their personality and into the zone.
It was this zone which, collectively, the Norwich players found themselves in at Wembley. It is there they must try and head to against Sunderland.
They were there for much of the match against Newcastle, although it wasn't quite perfect (the nerves started to bite in in the second half). Norwich were brave going forward, taking the game to them in the first half like they had done to Middlesbrough. They were there again for the first 15 minutes against Palace, and for the 10 minutes after they'd scored, but overall it was too timid, too fearful at Selhurst Park. The pressure, it seemed, had got to them, and anxiety had broken through into the zone. They can't let that happen against Sunderland; they have to be braver than them on Saturday.
So Norwich need their bravest players. They need Wes Hoolahan, whose 100% pass-completion rate at Wembley still staggers me, and they need Nathan Redmond. Both are fearless on the ball: they want it at their feet, no matter how many opposition players are hustling them. They both have their faults but, in games like this, Norwich need players who want the ball where others might shy away from it. That's real footballing bravery.
Wembley is the template to follow. Become emotionless assassins again on Saturday against Sunderland, and Norwich will take one giant, calm leap towards safety.
You can follow Dan Brigham on Twitter at @dan_brigham