Hands up who’s looking forward to tomorrow afternoon?
It’s not long ago, while plummeting the depths of League One and locking horns with the likes of Wycombe, Walsall and Leeds, when we’d have given anything to be afforded the chance to do the same with the English game’s elite.
Yet, here we are, on the cusp of a visit from “the best team on the planet” (Tim Sherwood’s words, not mine) and rather than drool at the prospect of going toe-to-toe with them it’s filling many, if not most, with dread.
Judging by social media ‘chatter’ and pre-match predictions from Archant’s panel of experts, tomorrow’s trek to Carrow Road is one to be endured rather than enjoyed.
In the search for points in the Pink’un’s Win, Lose or Draw league table each pundit has offered a head rather than heart prediction, resulting in only one – ex-City legend Iwan Roberts – opting for something other than a thumping Norwich defeat.
And while it’s impossible to argue with their logic (Iwan clearly content with a ‘Europa League’ finish) it speaks volumes of where we are right now if restricting Man City to four is deemed by most as something of a result.
That said fixture takes place within the confines of the city walls makes the Pink’un’s depressing – yet perfectly rational – list of predictions ever more hard to swallow. Whatever’s happened to ‘Fortress Carrow Road’?
The blue half’s scoring exploits have been typically fawned over by the national media – with good reason – and their 5-1 win at White Hart Lane gave many a pundit opportunity to unleash the old ‘making a statement’ cliché, but defeats at Aston Villa, Cardiff and Sunderland earlier in the campaign had alluded to a hitherto unseen vulnerability when on the road.
And while everything points to Manuel Pellegrini having addressed those chinks in their Abu Dhabi-financed armoury, you would think draws at Southampton and Stoke should at least have afforded us the faintest glimmer of light at the end of that long dark tunnel.
It’s telling therefore that the consensus appears to be our current crop – minus last May’s match-winner Jonny Howson – not only lack the wherewithal to match the aforementioned results but also the ability to get within a country mile of Manchester’s finest; even a narrow defeat out of the question it seems.
Seldom can I recall the confidence and expectation of City fans being as low – on a par with England’s chances of winning the ICC World Twenty20 – but one can only hope it’s a mindset not shared by Chris Hughton’s chosen XI at 15:00 tomorrow.
Alas, that’s all we have… hope.
I can vaguely recall writing something similar back in early November when we entered the Etihad off the back of three defeats and a draw (one of those defeats being four days earlier against their lowly neighbours in red).
As a result of that run of form everything pointed to a thumping defeat but my wish was that, courtesy of a finely tuned plan, they would emerge relatively unscathed and with pride intact.
It didn’t happen of course and instead we were given the most brutal lesson imaginable – from an XI that included Martin Demichelis – in the most humiliating fashion possible. No hint of a plan A, B, C or D, no inkling of ‘giving it a go’, and no ‘bottle’.
Just to heighten the embarrassment, Messrs Johnson and Martin added their own names to a scoresheet that typically included the names of Aguero, Negredo and co. Ignominy complete. Pride most definitely not intact.
All of which has contributed massively to the defeatist air that has hovered over the City this week, and I’m not about to challenge Archant and Radio Norfolk’s finest when it comes to Norwich City fortune telling. They’re better qualified than I. And besides, little has happened since 2nd November to suggest we’re about to make The Sky Blues pay for said humiliation.
Perhaps by way of preparing us for the worst, the local press have filled their pages with talk of record Premier League defeats and the backlash that invariably follows when a top six side suffers defeat. But while said sentiments are to be expected I’m still prepared to believe we have one upset in us this season, even if ‘upset’ in this case means a narrow defeat.
Sadly we should expect that Pellegrini will have learned a lesson in seeing the aforementioned Demichelis run ragged by Chelsea’s midfield – if he appears tomorrow it will be likely in his preferred central defensive position – but at least we’re spared another meeting with Aguero; the hamstring injury sustained at The Lane putting the Argentinian out for a few weeks.
Which is good because quite frankly I’ve had more than enough of short, stocky, South American strikers for one season… or any season if I’m honest.
In terms of the noises emanating from Colney, it appears we may see a debut for Joseph Yobo – Ryan Bennett’s thigh injury needing a late fitness test – with Hughton confirming also that Wes Hoolahan will be in the squad.
So… while it seems we need to brace ourselves for the worst, I’m sure the faithful will at least give it everything from the stands. If the apathy that currently exists were to transmit itself to the pitch then we are in for an awfully long afternoon, but I’m convinced that won’t happen.
Let’s not turn all ‘Wolves’. Let’s embrace the occasion and trust those in yellow to do the same.
You never know, we might enjoy it.
“Never mind the danger”