To boo or not to boo… that seems to be the question.
Once the euphoria of Saturday’s win over Arsenal had subsided, the message boards and social media went into overdrive. Some say we should applaud; some say we should boo; some say we should turn our backs and others suggest indifference to be the answer.
For what it’s worth… I’m slightly wary that if we afford Paul Lambert the type of reception he faced upon his return to Colchester it could work in the favour of his new employers.
Chris Hughton and Co will, I predict, remind us that Saturday’s is just another game and – however big we chose to make it – there are still only three points at stake. All true and laudable, except it ISN’T just another game – and there are two million reasons why that not the case.
One thing is clear… Lambert DOES big occasions. We only have to cast our minds back to the aforementioned trip to Colchester to recall how he’s able to motivate his troops on such occasions.
Ditto his only two local derbies against ‘that lot’, and that unforgettable League One win at Carrow Road over those lovable rogues from Leeds.
I have no idea how he does it – only those privy to those pre-match rallying calls really know – but the way he is able to enter the psyche of his players on those big occasions is a rare art. Whether that skill is borne of a happy knack, or a ‘how to motivate’ textbook I know not – but it works.
I expect him to be drawing on it at around midday on Saturday. And this is why – via my twisted logic – I reckon a dignified indifference is the way to go.
There’s no escaping the fantastic journey we’ve been on, spearheaded by Lambert and David McNally, and we have much to be thankful for.
We knew he’d eventually leave – his refusal to lay down East Anglian roots told us that much – and the way it happened was also predictable.
Similarly, we can’t have too many complaints over Aston Villa’s part in the saga. Some may argue that Villa’s quest for Lambert’s services trod a rather more ethical route than our own, so probably not something to dwell on. We’ll leave that one for the lawyers.
If there is a consolation, it’s that those same Villa fans who serenaded their future leader for the duration of his Carrow Road swansong – and then gloated once his signature had been sealed – will, one day, know exactly it feels.
But, as Mick Dennis so eloquently put it Lambert has moved on, and so have we.
It would be a great shame – not to mention a waste – if the occasion is allowed to overshadow the game itself. After all, we have an exhilarating win over Champions League opposition to build on.
Three points on Saturday – against a side that appears there for the taking – would cement our position away from the drop zone, and instil further belief that we have turned the corner after an iffy opening few weeks.
In terms of the starting XI – one would assume that Hughton will be tempted to leave it unchanged. If indeed he does start with Messrs Holt and Hoolahan, then that makes for yet another interesting sideshow. Given his familiarity with their strengths – and maybe the odd weakness – how will their old gaffer go about dealing with them?
Will Holty be counteracted with similar levels of muscle? Will Wes be afforded a man-to-man marker? Both will be subject of much discussion this week in the Bodymoor Heath boot room.
Thankfully, the summer refresh given to the squad by Team Hughton will mean there are a few faces that Lambert will be less familiar with.
Having said that – given Lambert’s penchant for homework – don’t expect Alexander Tettey to be given too much time and space to shoot from distance.
One thing is for sure… Villa will work their socks off. Lambert teams rarely do ‘no-shows’ (unless confronted by an ex-mentor) and to beat them City will first of all have to match them in the physical battle. It’s a phrase I detest – and blame a certain Ulsterman – but you really do have to ‘earn the right to play’.
If City can do that – and if the H-Men can inspire in the same way they did last week – then the reward of another three points is potentially theirs.
So, will a thunderous Yellow Army ‘welcome’ unnerve our former hero? Definitely not.
Will that same reception inspire him? Almost certainly.
Will it have an impact on the result? Probably not.
I’d like to see that show of indifference before kick-off (a step back from the polite applause suggested before ‘compensationgate’) and then use every ounce of saved venom and passion to back the boys in yellow for the hour and a half that follows.
That way, we could have an impact – and those three points would, for sure, do more to darken the Villa mood than any planned display of petulance.
And just imagine that smirk on McNally’s face upon entering the Directors Lounge…