This weekend’s Premiership clash with Blackburn Rovers is fast shaping up to be the tale of two managers as Rovers Steve Kean continues to fight for his managerial life, whilst Paul Lambert’s star rises ever further on the back of that 1-1 away draw at Anfield.
It left the two clubs 12 places apart in the autumn table with the Norfolk new-boys sitting oh-so nicely in eighth, while Rovers remain rooted to the bottom of the table.
It has not been a good start for the ‘other half’ of the North-West’s Premiership contingent with Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic also finding themselves in the drop zone ahead of this weekend’s latest round of fixtures.
With Arsenal travelling to Chelsea in the lunch-time kick-off, victory for the Canaries come five o’clock could easily see City leap-frog over the Gunners and on into seventh spot.
It would, equally, heap more fire on the under-pressure Rovers chief, even if he did his cause the power of good with last night’s last-gasp Carling Cup triumph over this season’s surprise package – Newcastle United.
But Keen knows his fate hangs on Blackburn’s league form. The trap door is gaping wide open already and as the fans gather in protest, so they too know that getting back on winning ways is essential if Rovers are to stay the Premiership course this term.
Relations are clearly strained right now; the contrast with Lambert’s own managerial position being stark. The Scot, in most eyes, can walk across the Wensum these days such is the magnitude of his achievement and reputation.
“I would rather not comment on that at this moment, I would rather focus on putting ourselves in a better position in the league,” Kean frostily told the local evening newspaper this week, as speculation mounted as to whether or not he would be offered a new, longer-term deal by the club.
The pressure for a change – coupled to talk of a ‘director of football’ arriving – is mounting with every passing game. Relegation for a club like Rovers would have been unthinkable when ‘Uncle Jack’ ruled the roost and, indeed, saw the Premiership title arrive at Ewood Park.
Those days, however, are long gone; there are some ill-winds blowing off the Lancashire hills.
“I don’t think the time is right for me to talk about myself, a contract or staying at the club longer or anything like that. It’s a time that I should be focused on getting results,” added Kean, talking the talk of a manager under pressure.
“I don’t think it’s really my job to make statements. If someone within the club wants to come out and speak about that, it’s not my position to comment on that. The team and how we’re going to play is what we need to be focused on.
“I’ve still got two years on my contract and I’m focused on what we need to do which is winning matches.”
This weekend’s match promises to be a very special occasion for at least one City star – winger Anthony Pilkington.
Born and raised locally, he grew up a Rovers fan with Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton as his boyhood heroes and, indeed, was on Rovers’ books as a youth.
This weekend and his Rovers-mad family will travel south to watch their boy in action – a young man who is fast finding his feet in the top flight of English football after, like so many of his team-mates, first finding himself rejected by his potential Premiership employers and then sampling life as a non-league player en route back to the top.
Speaking ahead of that trip to Liverpool, Lambert said they had always seen a player rich in promise.
“We saw Anthony at Stockport many years ago and I thought he was a handful then,” said Lambert, whose summer swoop is fast reaping rich rewards.
“He made great strides at Huddersfield and I always thought he was a threat because he uses both feet really well. I’m delighted for him.”
The fact that he shrugged off the miss at Manchester United to storm back with two goals a week later spoke volumes for the strength of character of the player.
“I heard some say he took a lot of criticism after the Man United game. I never really heard that to be honest, but right now his confidence will be as high as it’s going to be.”