Wolves boss Mick McCarthy turned up the heat on all concerned this week as looked forward to 'a big week' at either end of the Championship table.
McCarthy was one of a whole clutch of managers, coaches and scouts that were in the stands watching last night's 1-1 draw at the KeepMoat Stadium.
In no particular order, he was joined by Alan Irvine (Preston North End), Alex McLeish (Birmingham City), Brian Laws (Sheffield Wednesday) and Nigel Clough (Derby County). Oh, and Aidy Boothroyd (ex-Watford).
Other familiar faces running the rule over a Bryan Gunn side were ex-City No2 Lee Clark – now at Huddersfield – and his potential successor in that role, Ian Butterworth. For now still ressie boss at Hartlepool but still widely tipped to be in at Colney in the none-too distant future.
Indeed, he could yet find his way to Molineux on Tuesday night when the Canaries relegation campaign slams straight into Wolves' promotion hopes. Which explains McCarthy's presence at last night's game.
As is a northern manager's wont, others might have been there simply to take in a game; or else, run the rule over say a Lee Croft as his contract talks continue.
Today, Wolves play host to another of City's drop rivals Watford. Little wonder, therefore, to find McCarthy predicting a decisive week looming – and all with the January transfer window slamming shut at 5pm on Monday afternoon. A big, big few days now loom.
“It's a big week for us now, let's not hide from that,” said McCarthy, ahead of their opening clash with Brendan Rogers' Hornets this afternoon.
Last night's point for the Canaries kept them in 19th spot, but did at least ensure that Rovers stayed beneath them in the table with the drop zone now two points distant not the one. And it was three games unbeaten under the new man at the helm – a record that will be put to the biggest test yet at Molineux.
“We have two home games now and while they are two teams towards the bottom end of the league the expectation on us will be greater,” warned McCarthy, well aware that his club have all-too often found themselves in similar positions before only to choke long before the finishing line.
And with both Reading and Birmingham City hot on McCarthy's heels, he knows that the Wolves faithful will be expecting nothing less than the full six points.
And with such expectations comes pressure as both McLeish and Steve Coppell start to reel in the Championship pace-setters.
“They will be two really hard games,” McCarthy added. “Everybody is fighting for something but we've got two home games and need to be trying to pick up six points if we want to stay top of the table. It's all getting bunched up behind us.
“Cardiff won the other day, Swansea are picking up points, they are all making their moves. And the biggest movers on Tuesday night were Birmingham and Reading.”
It is that very fear of being caught again that Gunn would do well to play on ahead of Tuesday's game; Norwich can walk in there with little or nothing to lose.
Did he see that game as the toughest one yet of his fledgling managerial reign was the question last night.
“Well, it will be – it's the next one,” said the City chief, sticking to that age-old managerial mantra of one-game at a time.
“Tonight was a tough game and we'll expect an equally tough game at Molineux.
“They've got a game tomorrow [Saturday] against Watford I believe so we'll have that watched and see if we can pick up anything from that game. And then when get a chance to assess the squad and its fitness we'll pick a team which we feel will do a job and gain something from the game.”
The biggest doubt was Darel Russell who disappeared off to hospital for an x-ray on a suspected fractured cheekbone; that came back all-clear and he travelled home with the Canary party last night – a very sore head and a big shiner for his troubles.
Whether that makes him a doubt for Tuesday is for Monday to decide.
“I had a fractured cheek-bone myself once and I played the next week,” said Gunn. “But I don't think it is fractured – I hope it isn't. The news that we got back from the hospital was that it wasn't fractured. And with masks and things these days, anything is possible.
“But he's in the hands of the physio now and we'll get him the best medical advice that we can and we'll take it from there.”
Come Tuesday night, of course, so both that 5pm Monday deadline will have passed – one or two issues might have been decided. A Purse string finally loosened there, a Crofty deal here.
“We had a meeting yesterday [Thursday] with Crofty,” revealed Gunn. “Things are still bubbling on. Crofty keeps that level of performance there'll be a contract offer on the table for him.
“And I'm sure clubs will be watching him who potentially could be interested in him as well,” added the Canary chief, undoubtedly well aware of the Championship managers and scouts convention that was progressing all around him – all of whom will, no doubt, be aware of the delicately balanced nature of those Croft talks.
Given he is 24 in June, Norwich cannot afford to see him walk for nothing in the summer.
“He's playing at the top of his game at the moment, so speculation will be there. But at the same time Crofty knows what I think about him so we will continue our discussions and hope that we get a positive outcome.”
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