The headline on the Leicester Mercury set the scene for the visit of the one true City. It screamed: “Sven’s biggest test!”
I’d have thought either of the World Cup quarter-finals he faced might have been a tad more significant but then, as the Yellow Army were to sing a few hours later, following Paul Lambert’s class of 2011 is “Just like watching Brazil…”
I like Sven.
At the 2002 World Cup, I spent a lot of time in the company of Nancy Dell’Olio, who was then his, um, partner.
Discretion and gallantry prohibit tales about ladies, but you would be right to assume she is not an easy-going, low-maintenance soul.
For the 2006 World Cup, I was based in Frankfurt, unlike most of the English hack pack, who were ensconced in Baden-Baden with the WaGs; a short, but challenging drive from the opulent mountain-top facility where Sven and his troops were garrisoned.
I went to the training camps of many other squads and only visited Baden-Baden or England’s Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe base occasionally. So I was better qualified than the embedded England reporters to conclude that Sven was in the middle of a kind of madness.
Half the world’s media was stationed in the park across the stream behind the Baden-Baden hotel in which, incredibly, the FA had put both the WaGs and the English hacks.
The other half of the planet’s horde of photographers, TV crews, radio teams, and news reporters was up the mountain, treating each daily interview session like the visitation of a deity.
Sven was the serene centre of this bonkers frenzy and I like him. But not as much as I admire Lambert.
And, at the cheaply assembled and poorly-finished Walkers Stadium, Sven’s policy of recruiting men like Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Darius Vassell on Premier League salaries was ridiculed by the utter magnificence of Lambert’s band of hungry wannabes.
I thought City’s display at Barnsley was a new high-point, because the team put in the hard yards to make their dominance total.
But that marvellous manifestation of Lambert’s ethos was eclipsed by the splendour of what occurred at the Walkers.
Leicester are no mugs. They had not lost at home in the League under Sven and, whatever the rest of this gripping season brings, two vignettes from that night will live in the memory.
The first was when, before he had done much, Wes Hoolahan was lauded by the 2,200-strong contingent in the away section with a roared, repeated rendition of his song.
Hoolahan’s response was one of the great individual displays by a Norwich player of recent times. He was, as Lambert said, unplayable.
The determined brilliance he showed came from within and was testimony to his own strength of character.
But never doubt the contribution the fans made with our proper, stirring support; a figurative arm around Hoolahoop’s shoulder and a collective statement of belief that, after the Preston penalty shocker, he could and would find redemption.
The second special memory from the triumph at Leicester was the reaction of the rest of the team to Aaron Wilbraham’s goal.
As they celebrated with him in front of us, several players made a big show of pointing to him as they smiled up at our wild, impromptu party.
A few days after Lambert signed Wilbraham, I bumped into MK Dons chairman Pete Winkleman at a Football League function at the Houses of Parliament.
He greeted me with a monologue of praise for the striker whose scoring ratio for the Buckinghamshire side had been better than one goal in every three starts.
There is no need now for me to try to persuade the doubters of the qualities Wilbraham had produced before his Leicester break-through.
The players were pointing out their own appreciation of his efforts and showing the solidarity that is characteristic of Lambert’s Norwich. What an uncommon but valuable commodity it is.
So why, when the tone and content of City’s away displays can be so galvanised, do they falter at home?
Why did they send us all slouching out of Carrow Road so disappointed after draws against Doncaster and Preston?
It is not, as one contributor asserted just before I turned off Canary Call in fury, “about attitude”.
The notion that the team are not motivated enough for some fixtures is as daft as that other silliness which states: “We need consistency…”
Really? You think? Oh, if only Lambert had realised that. Then he could have gone to a supermarket and bought 15 cans of consistency.
No, in football, sometimes you don’t win. Sometimes, the other team spoil your day. Sometimes, stuff happens. And sometimes, there is a hangover from the previous match.
So, there was a tiredness after the adrenaline-filled, energy-sapping heroics at Leeds which undermined efforts against Doncaster three days later.
And the system which worked so well away at Barnsley – Grant Halt as a solitary striker with Wes flitting around him – was not at all effective at home against Preston’s massed defence. Too often attacks ended with a centre aimed at the isolated and outnumbered Holt.
But then, just as Doncaster and Preston were reactions to Leeds and Barnsley, so Leicester was a reaction to Preston. It wasn’t only Wes who was doing his utmost to atone at the Walkers.
And now, with ten games left, City are joint second in the Championship.
Some fans are weary of Lambert always recounting how far the team have come, but surely the correct context for the current position is that at any time in the last six seasons any of us would have been overjoyed at the promise of arriving at March 2011 with a genuine chance of reaching the Premier League.
And be sure of this: if we don’t make it this time there is no guarantee that we will get as close next season.
Be sure of this as well: if City do fall short this time it will not be because of attitude problems – unless we are talking about the attitude of the fans.
The support that has seen 20,500 commit to season tickets already is peerless, but it is means that Carrow Road can be a difficult place for our team.
When we – and I am guilty of this – have our tumbleweed moments, when we all fall silent with worry, that is communicated to the players as readily as when we lift the roofs with On The Ball.
So here is my promise. On Monday night, at the Bristol City match, I will keep the faith. I won’t worry or fret.
I will endeavour to find the voice I lost at Leicester, when I played a miniscule part in a huge achievement. It is all I can do, but I shall do it.
I will support.
It the very least this manager and this team deserves.