How are we all feeling are the events of the weekend? Relaxed? Panicky? Indifferent?
With five teams now on 33 points there is a crowded look to the bottom half of the table – the bottom eleven in fact – and there is still work to do.
I’m not one to dwell on stats of the past – I leave that to others far more able – but I don’t expect there have been too many occasions in the recent past where, at this stage of the season, the bottom eleven are separated by just ten points.
With ‘Arry’s boys suddenly – from somewhere – discovering the winning habit, those of us hoping for a relatively stress-free run-in may just have to realign our expectations. Chris Hughton even said it himself in post-match conversation with BBC Radio Norfolk’s Chris Goreham, “… I’m not sure how exciting it [the run-in] will be, but it’ll be tense”.
Not quite what I wanted to hear if I’m honest. I was rather hoping for something along the lines of, ‘there’s still a bit of work to be done, but we’ll be fine’. However, if the gaffer says it’s going to be tense, who am I to argue. Tense it is.
Newcastle’s win over the purists from the Potteries has certainly made life interesting, with Stoke now firmly ensconced in the mid-table ‘pack’ – and with a very similar record to Norwich. Alas where it all starts to unfurl a little for City is when the goal difference column comes into view.
Thanks to their rather too frequent capitulation habit they find themselves bottom of the 33 point brigade, and by some margin. In reality, to those around them that minus 18 goal difference is worth an extra point and when push comes to shove we can only hope it won’t be a deciding factor. With goals still hard to come by I don’t see us pulling a hole in that number any time soon.
All of which serves to crank up the pressure ahead of Sunday’s lunchtime date on Wearside, with Martin O’Neill’s men no doubt smarting from their QPR disappointment. Sunderland will be ‘up for it’ – of that there’s no doubt – with O’Neill priding himself on his ability to ignite the fire in the belly, but at least we can expect Hughton to hold his ground (metaphorically and in the technical area).
The deference shown by Lambert just over a year ago in the same fixture was a little uncomfortable on the eye and may have partly explained the performance being one of the season’s few ‘no-shows’.
One thing’s for sure – whatever the circumstances – there won’t be a better time for City to claim their first double of the season.
In addition to QPR’s recent fillip, Wigan present a real and present danger to the rest of the pack – especially if they win their game in hand. Well versed in the art of Premier League escapology, much will depend on the effect of their triumphant FA Cup run, but if they’re able to use its bounce-effect rather than succumb to its draining impact – emotional and physical – they remain a genuine threat.
In Roberto Martinez not only do they possess the single threat to Chris Hughton in the Premier League Manager charm stakes, but they possess someone who has been there, seen it and has the T-shirt. They also have an inbuilt immunity to the stresses and strains of hovering around the bottom three. This is their staple, the norm, and so much of the angst that is slowly pervading the Canary Nation will appear to them almost laughable.
There’s little doubt that the ability to take the possible threat of relegation in their stride has contributed to their success in preventing it. As we all know, calmness on the pitch does filter through to the stands and vice-versa, although I guess it does help if said stands are only a third full.
We’re all acutely aware how quickly a Carrow Road in full voice can turn into Carrow Road in full-on whinge mode, and how this invariably translates into a nervy, tentative performance on the pitch. While I’m not expecting us all to turn up with cigars and carpet slippers I think there is a little lesson there about the best way to approach the run-in.
Having said all of that… a column like this one probably doesn’t help!
The ‘simple’ answer is obvious: to find, from somewhere in the locker, two wins and the odd draw. If one of those wins were to arrive on Sunday then a few of the frayed nerves, so evident on Canary Call and Twitter, will surely be calmed.
The sooner Hughton can drop the word ‘tense’ from his post-match chats, the happier we’ll all be.
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