The news that Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington are likely to be out of action until the New Year was a hammer blow and confirmed unequivocally that the footballing gods have it in for City right now.
The old adage of being kicked in the wotsits when the chips are down has never seemed more apt as we lurch from crisis to crisis, although behind the on-field dramas lies a club in the rudest financial health of its 111 year history.
Wonderful news in truth – for those who have lived through the ‘skint years’ it makes a refreshing change to see a balance sheet that shows no external debt and a healthy turnover – but in the here and now the biggest issue remains the team’s inability to win football matches, or at least enough of them.
Ultimately one *will* impact on the other, with chairman Alan Bowkett and chief executive David McNally both emphasising that the current business plan relies on revenue Premier League-style.
While we’re informed the players’ contracts have clauses that reflect Championship wages for Championship football, the stark reality is that TV revenue from our last season in the second tier was £5 million compared to a minimum of £64 million this season. Parachute payments aside, relegation – with no guarantee of bouncing straight back – is about as unpalatable as another trip to that grubby little town in Suffolk.
For the balance sheet to remain in the rudest of health City simply *have* to survive and I can’t agree with those who yearn for the days of ‘proper football’ at traditional grounds, played by blokes who take one whole month to earn what many of us earn in a year. Forget that; give me the bloke who takes home more in one week than I can earn in four years any day. No question.
All of which points us back to the activity on the green stuff.
Saturday’s return of Tony Pulis promises to be another of those where a win at any cost is the only option – the classic ‘must win’ – with anything less likely to furrow the brow of McNally and co; a tricky week ahead awaiting them if Pulis’s new charges respond to new-manager syndrome.
If the capped one is victorious – one assumes he’ll be frequenting the ‘Palace Store’ this week – I fear for his opposite number who right now is reliant on home wins to keep the P45 at bay. The mood inside Carrow Road, while receptive to the guts on display in that second half against West Ham, is at tipping point and things could quickly turn ugly if things go south.
Hughton needs a win – no question – but he also needs to find a formula that’s going to break the cycle of reliance on home wins following away-day disappointments. It simply can’t continue and eventually something will have to give.
While many have already made their mind up that there is no future in maintaining the status quo, I simply want to see us win football matches – or at least look capable of winning them – home and away.
All a little simplistic of course – Hughton obviously wants exactly the same – but you don’t need to be a statistician to see that at their current rate City are going to fall shy of 38 points, let alone the mythical 40.
Around this time last year we were in the midst of the ten game unbeaten run, which was ultimately the key to survival, and minus something similar soon the mid-winter of 2013/14 is going to be bleak in the extreme.
Regardless of who is in charge, this season needs a spark; something, anything to ignite a campaign that so far has been more stop than start.
We were hoping it was going to come from Ricky – but through a combination of factors it hasn’t happened so far. We were told that Gary Hooper was a poacher extraordinaire, but so far – not all of his own making – he’s hit the net just once in the Premier League.
With three of our more creative sparks – Elliott Bennett, Snodgrass and Pilkington – all out of action the onus looks likely to fall on some young shoulders to provide the attacking threat out wide. Assuming Nathan Redmond to be the natural choice for one of the wide positions the scene could be set for Josh Murphy to be unleashed on the other.
While it would be wrong to heap too much pressure on those young shoulders, I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the prospect of having a ‘flyer’ down either flank a tiny bit mouth watering. A little bit raw they may be – certainly in the case of Murphy – but with tentativeness an overriding theme of late perhaps the fearlessness of youth is just what City need right now.
Time will tell of course, and famous last words they may be, but with straw-clutching a key element of being a City supporter at the moment I’d love – for once at least – to be proved right.
Alternatively of course Hughton may wish to reintroduce Wes into the fray, but we’ve long since accepted that his best work comes when either at the tip of the diamond or betwixt midfield and lone striker. A flying winger he isn’t… or at least hasn’t been.
For what it’s worth I’d love nothing more than to see our mercurial Irishman returning on Saturday in said ‘number 10’ role with Jonny Howson and Leroy Fer for company in the centre of the pitch. With the aforementioned youngsters out wide and Wes tucked in just behind Hooper, it would be great to see our better technicians combine to create a decent supply for the ex-Celtic man – something that last Saturday’s midfield combo failed to do.
In reality I suspect, as some have already pointed out, that the speed and strength of Martin Olsson will be utilised further up the pitch with Javier Garrido returning at left-back, but with the stakes so high many would revel in the prospect of something more ambitious. The sight of two ‘left-backs’ would do little to lighten the Carrow Road mood, but the sight of one of our own in the starting line-up – in the shape of Murphy – would certainly encourage a few of the waverers.
Whether one Luciano Becchio will feature remains to be seen, but following his frank interview with the Daily Mirror one suspects at the very least a ‘clear the air’ with Hughton is required to assess his future. Just two starts since his arrival back in January does indeed leave many questions unanswered and with the side hardly awash with goals everything points to his stay at Norwich being a short and not particularly sweet one.
But, with football being the odd beast it is, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that at the end of an eventful week the Argentinian gets to open his City account on Saturday.
Stranger things have happened… or am I just clutching at those straws again?