Almost hidden behind the hows, whys and wherefores of who manages the team going forward is a Saturday teatime date with West Ham. So far, amidst the bluster surrounding the inners, outers and shake-it-all-abouters, the game against the East Enders has registered only the faintest blip on the radar, but hopefully the focus will soon shift to the important stuff.
In fact, so far the biggest talking point ahead of the weekend surrounds the likely events in the stands rather than on the pitch; the potential similarities with Burnley, October 2006, not lost on those present on that most toxic of Carrow Road afternoons.
Also worthy of hardly a mention has been that the Hammers are just two points ahead of City; a win taking us not only clear of the relegation zone but also above Big Sam’s men.
Whether Hughton’s men currently have the wherewithal to get the victory is the million dollar question right now, but it goes without saying it’s one earmarked as ‘winnable’, unlike – judging by some of the body language on display – last weekend’s trip to the Etihad.
And while I resent the use of the phrase ‘must-win’ outside of April and May, for a whole host of reasons we’re getting perilously close to three points being the only palatable outcome on Saturday.
The importance of a City win was brought home when listening to talkSPORT’s excellent Hawksbee and Jacobs on Wednesday afternoon. While the duo remain the shining lights of an otherwise flatlining radio station (contributions by our own Mick Dennis aside…), Andy Jacobs for once made the heckles rise.
Off the back of an interview with a Sunderland writer – on there to dissect the Black Cats misfiring summer signings – the former producer of Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football declared that ‘it’s hard to see Norwich, Palace and Sunderland hauling themselves away from the relegation zone even at this early stage’.
It struck a nerve, not least because it laid bare the current perception of those outside the city walls of ‘little Norwich’.
And while it should matter not one jot how we are regarded – Paul McGrath, on the same radio station, declared Hughton up to the task but not the players – it is telling that some have already written off our survival chances with only a quarter of the season gone.
In truth, two wins, six goals and a 7-0 thumping does lend itself to questions being asked – even if it does come from the voice of one of my broadcasting heroes. We’ve hardly helped ourselves so far.
But with my pint pot still just above half-full – even if the beer is a little warm and flat – I remain hopeful that Saturday will be a turning point.
A quick look at West Ham’s form reveals a team in a not dissimilar state to ourselves; just two wins so far with only eight goals scored. Where their record differs from City’s is the ‘goals against’ column – also just eight. In other words….. no, let’s forget last Saturday.
So we have a side that’s scored just six in ten against a side that’s conceded just eight in ten? Scoreless draw anyone?
After last weekend John Ruddy and co would naturally give anything for a clean sheet … but it’s the Jääskeläinen goal that bothers me more.
Somehow, from somewhere, City need to unlock a defence that has so far been one the meanest in the Premier League; a frugalness reportedly borne of a defensive set-up bordering on 4-6-0 on occasions. That Barcelona can pull off such a formation is a given, but West Ham? Not so sure.
Clearly they’re going to be solid and hard to break down but possibly with a flip side of conceding territory and possession.
If that takes us back to a Southampton scenario then it’s time for Gary Hooper and Johan Elmander (Saturday coming too soon for Ricky van Wolfswinkel) to start repaying Hughton’s faith and McNally’s investment. If there were ever a day for them to finally come to the party, Saturday is that day.
To say they’ve misfired so far, certainly in the Premier League, is an understatement – as highlighted by the Daily Mail – but both come with goalscoring credentials. Without them they wouldn’t be here in the first place.
But now they need to start delivering.
For all the brickbats fired in Hughton’s direction over the last week, there’s also no excusing the role of the players in the double Manchester horror show. Few covered themselves in glory; not one did their manager a favour.
They owe Hughton … big time.
Whether they have the belief to do so is another matter – 7-0 hammerings have a tendency to dent the confidence – but the last thing I’m expecting is a no-show on a Worthy/Burnley scale.
The noises emanating from Colney have been typically encouraging – we’d expect nothing less – but Russell Martin’s rallying call will be quickly rendered futile if the players’ actions don’t match their words.
Much will depend on the type of start City make to the game. A tentative, nervous one will no doubt be quickly seized upon; an up-tempo, positive one will hopefully earn the approval and backing of Carrow Road.
With patience in fairly short supply in NR1 right now the best we can realistically hope for is an early goal that will galvanise – for ninety minutes at least – the Yellow Army factions. It would certainly help.
Gary… Johan… Luciano… over to you.