Time for City to step up to the plate, exorcise the ‘Midlands blues’ and put one foot firmly on the safety ladderFri 18 Mar 16 by Russell Saunders
With our two main rivals, Sunderland and Newcastle, set for a ‘Super Sunday’ showdown on Tyneside, City have the chance to seize the initiative at the Hawthorns tomorrow.
It’s an opportunity to sound out a battle cry to the northern hordes and, for 24 hours or so, get out of the bottom three. Psychologically, it could be huge – the longer you linger in the drop zone, the more likely that confidence will drain away.
Even if only a temporary elevation, a win against West Brom would be a much needed shot in the arm going into the final home straight of a difficult season.
A repeat of the lacklustre and anaemic show at Villa is unthinkable with so much at stake. And any repeat of the last minute aberration at Leicester has to be avoided.
So far the Midlands have not provided much joy for the Yellow Army.
What glimmer of hope was gained from that precious point cleaved off a Manchester City side in the dying embers of the Pellegrini era, has to provide the spark. The Canaries have to go on a run of point gathering, one which has sorely eluded them since 2nd January.
It is literally now or never. But that doesn’t mean going gung-ho against a notoriously difficult side to break down.
The Baggies’ narrow win at Carrow Road back in October came at a time when Alex Neil’s attacking philosophy had taken its first big hit at Newcastle just six days earlier.
The bounce-back hoped for from that calamity didn’t materialise as City bossed the ball and all of the stats, except for the most important one.
After the West Brom defeat, Neil’s seemingly impermeable positivity was clearly dented:
“I wouldn’t say it is worrying times. It is not a nice time; I have never even lost two league games in a row, never mind three.”
Little did he or we suspect that things would get much worse.
That defeat mirrored the same poor result against the Baggies in the previous Premier campaign; a dismal defeat which signalled the end of Chris Hughton after the faithful had flung their clappers in despair.
West Brom seem to be one of those sides – along with Sunderland – with whom City’s fate is inextricably entwined whenever we are in this unforgiving league.
Back to this Saturday and beyond, I suspect that most of us hope to see a settled side in yellow and green over the next few weeks, ideally with not too much chopping and changing of personnel and positions.
That said, with Nathan Redmond now sadly consigned to the sidelines effectively for the rest of the season but with the combined experience of Robbie Brady and Steven Naismith back in contention after injury and unavailability, changes from last time out are inevitable.
Only a very brave man or woman tries to predict what Alex Neil has in mind ahead of the team sheet being pinned up, so it seems futile to consider the myriad of possibilities here.
But we badly need some of our boys to rediscover a bit of va va voom.
While the possibility of a stable back four seems destined not to happen for us, as Ryan Bennett looks unlikely to feature on Saturday, the lack of creativity and cutting edge in the box remain hugely worrying concerns.
Attacking threat from midfield has dwindled and the goals have dried up. Only against Liverpool and West Ham have we looked dangerous of late, and away from home you have to go way back to Old Trafford.
Somehow Alex has to get the better of Tony Pulis tactically and inspirationally. A tough task when such a chasm of experience exists between the two.
While the Baggies under ‘track-suit’ Tony may not be to most football fans’ taste, once more he’s delivered a degree of safety we can only enviously gaze up at.
With things so tight at the bottom, the Geordies and the Makems will be eagerly tuning in to see how our boys get on ahead of their Tyneside tussle and will be buoyed if the Baggies turn City over.
Right now, we appear to be everyone’s underdogs in a three-‘dog’ race.
The time has come to get snappy and show some bark and bite.