It’s been an odd season for City. It had started so brightly: that late, great Nelson Oliviera equaliser in the west London sunshine on opening day capped off an enterprising attacking performance, instilling those present with a fervent sense of optimism that Daniel Farke was capable of leading something special in his maiden season in English football.
What followed so acutely underwhelmed: hammerings at Villa Park and the New Den combined with laboured performances at home against Sunderland and Burton Albion provided us with a more realistic representation of this City side; a ‘work in progress’ to use a common cliché but one that seemingly required an alarming amount of surgery.
Then came the turbulence: that magnificent run of September and October, which included memorable trips to Bramall Lane, the Riverside and – of course – Portman Road, followed by the watershed that was the Emirates that triggered a period of hapless form that led to many writing our season off.
A few wins and multiple draws later, and here we are. Fourteenth place, 47 points and ten shy of the Bristol City-occupied sixth place. The season appears a write off. Indeed, given City’s chronic inability to score goals, it probably is. However, with a fortnight saturated with winnable-looking fixtures ahead, dare we dream?
Four games in eleven days await City, starting under the lights at Carrow Road against Nottingham Forest tomorrow night and culminating back there on March 17 when Reading are the visitors. A trip to Hull and a rescheduled journey to Barnsley separate them.
What I’m writing may well be an exhibition in irrational, unjustified optimism, but is claiming that anything between nine and twelve points is viable really that ridiculous?
City have momentum. Granted, I wasn’t present for what sounded like yet another painful stalemate last Saturday against Bolton, but Farke’s employment of width through Josh Murphy and Onel Hernandez in the first-half sounds as though it fostered a long-awaited sense of creativity. Moritz Leitner missed a sitter. On another day with slightly more clinical finishing, we would have won.
City were magnificent at Molineux. Twenty-three minutes in and two-nil down, many of us 600 travelling fans feared the worst. A different set of players may have crumbled. However, a towering Christoph Zimmerman header – he was superb that night – revitalised us and led to a second-half of utter domination. The pride that that Oliviera late-show evoked was unparalleled. City had earned their point.
This team are capable. Just cast your eye back to Ashton Gate, Griffin Park (twice) and the iPro last month. What about those trips to Sheffield United, Middlesbrough and Reading, victories that led to a September that even Earth, Wind and Fire would look back nostalgically on. On our day, we are a difficult outfit to beat.
Credit to Farke. Under his leadership, he has manufactured a defence characterised by solidity and dependability as opposed to the fragility and horrors that we became so accustomed to last season. Although in doing so he may have inadvertently jeopardised our attacking threat, such a limitation has been one that has been overcome by the magic of James Maddison on such a multitude of occasions.
Four wins in our next four is not an unviable prospect. City lie above all of our next opponents in the current Championship table. We have not lost since January 20. We will enter the period fresh following a recovery-conducive ten days off. We have a striker who has been instilled with some degree of relative confidence. The players are hungry.
One thing this city side possess in so much abundance is character. The desire to succeed among the squad is so visible, with even loanees such as the remarkably competent makeshift right-back Harrison Reed celebrating every win, point or goal with such palpable animation.
Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke have constructed a team that care, a group of players who appear truly united and are willing to put everything on the line for their yellow and green cause.
The next eleven days really will define our season. Three or four wins may place City tantalisingly close to the top six. If Farke’s men demonstrate that collectivity, resilience and savviness of that super September, anything could be possible.
Whisper it quietly, but this season may not be done just yet.