Like most Championship managers, I’ve not looked at the table recently.
I’ll only look at it in May… as they all tend to say; whilst at the same time quizzing the nearest Press officer as to where that particular result leaves them in the table.
But I did look at the table this evening; just to see how the runners and riders were shaping up going into the crucial festive spell – the ‘back bend’ of a season, for those who buy into the concept of a league campaign being much like a 400-metres race.
The first point of note was the fact that Rangers out there on top of the pile are right on the button in terms of that two-points-for-promotion average with 41 points from their first 20 games.
And if that weren’t enough to suggest that Neil Warnock is about to roll off this final bend with a real spring in his stride, QPR have yet to lose an away game. In nine away trips, they have yet to lose. That is no mean feat; that suggests that one of the promotion places looks good as sorted; it likewise suggests that the New Year’s Day fixture at Carrow Road could be something of a tester.
Rangers are on a roll. They have – from a distance – the smell of champions; they also have cash up their sleeve if the going threatens to get tough come the last week of January.
So much for City’s visitors on New Year’s Day.
This weekend’s trip to Coventry City has a similar look to it as the away trip to Derby County the other week; things are going OK at the Ricoh, just as they were at Pride Park. So, with Mr Holt back to boss that forward line, you wouldn’t be altogether surprised if the Canaries undid the memories of this weekend’s reverse and picked up points again.
After all, this is still a side that has yet to lose back-to-back games under Paul Lambert’s charge.
The Tuesday night game at home to Sheffield United should, likewise, be a game where the Canaries can pick up points.
The Blades are at the wrong end of the table; full, festive house, under the lights… it has all the required ingredients for a decent home win.
The one that sticks out like a sore thumb, however, is that Boxing Day trip to Selhurst Park. That’s where the heart sinks; that’s when the first reaction is ‘Ohhh, pleeease…’
I can’t really remember ever enjoying a game at Selhurst Park. I know there must have been one; sometime.
I remember having a frank exchange of views with then boss Gary Megson as to which way the Evening News’ wind was blowing as to his chances of surviving a summer of change board-room wise.
Suffice to say, it was the Evening News wot won it as Mike Walker returned for his second spell at the helm.
And I can still taste the browning sandwiches in the Press room; still sense the outrage at the price Simon Jordan always used to charge for tickets into the away end.
Palace (a) on Boxing Day doesn’t set the world alight; doesn’t get the heart skipping a beat; doesn’t send the spirits soaring.
And, therefore, for me, it is probably as good a test of Lambert’s managerial mettle over that festive period as any of those afore-mentioned games.
Because if he can steal away with three points from the Selhurst, do the decent at home to Sheffield United and nick at least a point off QPR on New Year’s Day, then I think City will be rolling off that back bend in pretty decent shape.
Middlesbrough away to follow is another long and ugly away trip, but if the spirit and the points are there from Palace, Sheff U and Co then anything remains possible.
Hand on heart, I think City will finish pretty much where they are now; fifth to eighth – a remarkable achievement on their first season back in the second flight. And, equally, testament to Lambert’s managerial prowess.
Cardiff I fancy: Dave Jones knows his way round the play-offs almost as well as Warnock. Leeds could throw money at it come January; always rated Simon Grayson.
And, in fairness, Portsmouth could get themselves on a roll. Away wins at first Swansea and now Norwich is no mean feat and in the likes of a David Nugent, Pompey have the kind of class acts at this level that can make all the difference.
But, yes, pick up something – almost anything – at Palace on Boxing Day and the force will still be with Lambert and Co.