I’m not particularly superstitious – at least not to the extent of a River End neighbour who insists he has a lucky River End season ticket ‘reader’ – but when it comes to football I do love a good omen.
And so, as I headed to Carrow Road through the throngs of traffic and turned right into Martineau Lane, the dulcet tones of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke filled my car and offered some quiet reassurance.
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises, please.
And there it was. Thom in full cry. He said it three times. And I know he wouldn’t lie to me.
What Thom didn’t tell me was that, while there was ultimately no surprise to the final outcome, our heroes would do their best to run us through the full gamut of footballing emotions – even on an evening that had all the ingredients for a comfortable win.
City’s penchant for not doing things the easy way prevails though, and a game that could, and probably should have been a rare four or five-goal win ended up being won by the narrowest of margins. Those last five minutes, not helped by the River End being at its twitchy, moany, tetchy worst, were excruciating.
But, as I have been able to write after nine of the last ten games, they ‘got the job done’. It may not always have the flow of much of what has gone before – although even amidst the nerves and angst of a promotion run-in they still produce some lovely stuff – but from hereon in it really is all about results.
Nine wins out of the last ten, just as the pressure gauge is nudging eleven, is a mightily impressive run in anyone’s book; even more so when you have the might of Yorkshire breathing down your neck.
Talking of which, I swear I heard a loud, collective groan heading in on the winds from up north as Emi Buendia swept home his second and City’s third goal of the night. Both clubs did all that was asked of them on Tuesday night – the Blades in, particularly difficult circumstances – and so for City to deliver again must have felt like a blow to the solar plexus. Shame.
City’s reward for holding their nerve is the guarantee of either, or both, dropping points on Saturday lunchtime as the Yorkshire galacticos go toe-to-toe at Elland Road. And who would have guessed that as the North’s finest go on winning runs befitting Premier League hopefuls, that little ol’ annoying Norwich would be the ones with a full set of Ws in their form guide?
But, with nine to go there is still plenty of scope for twists & turns and highs & lows, and even if Saturday goes as planned, the finishing line remains some way in the distance, with a fair sprinkling of hurdles and water jumps still left to negotiate.
What we do have in our favour, in addition to being top of the league and those green Ws, is a squad that, bar a couple of long-term injuries, is fit, healthy and absolutely bursting at the seams with confidence. We also have a quality bench, each one of whom believes they should be in the XI and who are itching to show precisely why.
Even more importantly though, we have a little Argentinian who seems determined to drag this club with him to the Premier League, and is doing so with a run of quite brilliant performances. While some are understandably showing the odd sign of feeling the pressure, Emi has gone in the opposite direction. He’s embraced it. Has responded to it.
It wasn’t just about his goals either. It’s his voracious work rate, his energy, his eye for a pass and his desire to make things happen. We had better go up because if we don’t, then his stay here is going to be all too brief.
And while he may be creator-in-chief, he’s not alone in producing the goods when we most need it. I’ve flown the Marco Stiepermann flag all season, even when some around me have deemed his unorthodox style unfit for purpose, but his excellent solo effort after ten minutes was the perfect nerve-settler, for him, the team, and all of us.
He may lose possession occasionally, he may look a little awkward at times, but there is no-one in this squad who gets even close to fulfilling that Pukki-supporting role like he does.
The issue of conceding daft and sloppy goals will, of course, be discussed in the de-brief and game analysis – and no-one wants to make things any more difficult than they already are – but now’s not the time for finger-pointing.
Tim Krul will know better than anyone how costly his error could have been, in the same way Christoph Zimmermann and Ben Godfrey will know they can ill afford to offer freebies inside the six-yard box, but ultimately they were errors that proved academic. There were still more than enough positives to smother the few negatives, and the important thing was to win those three points.
The news that Team Farke have committed themselves to this club until 2022 was a bonus, and fair play to the club for the stage-managed announcement which probably did increase the decibel level early on, but now that minor distraction is out of the way, the countdown to what may ultimately become the P word is well and truly on.
Last night was a test, a bigger test than it should have been, but it was passed successfully. Pass the next one on Saturday in South Yorkshire and maybe, just maybe, we can start dreaming.
Just don’t expect there to be no surprises along the way.