Blank weekends are generally not good for football supporters. Rarely is the alternative a palatable one, especially if the other half is determined to compensate for the fact Saturday afternoons – between August and May – are shopping-free zones.
But blank weekends for football supporters whose team have managed to acquire one point from their last three games and have lost to two of their main rivals in the process are especially painful.
Do you mull over, for the millionth time, why the season to date has been such an unedifying slog? Do you make hay of the fact there is no turgid performance to pick the bones from? Or do you suddenly become a winter sports expert and give the heart and soul a weekend off?
In fairness, at least the Winter Olympics have offered an alternative that doesn’t involve watching Alastair Cook and ten others getting humiliated Down Under; England’s cricketers affording us the opposite of comfort on days when the pre-Christmas Canary woes all became a little too much. As least in Sochi we have relatively little expectation of success.
So, rather than tackle head-on the rights and wrongs of David McNally telling it straight to BBC Radio Norfolk, I attempted to immerse myself in seemingly sane folk throwing themselves down a mountain, head-first on a tea tray, aka ‘the skeleton’. And compelling stuff it was, especially with the women’s version of the event having now thrown up GB medalists in four consecutive games; gold in the last two.
Alas, however hard I’ve tried, everything comes back to Norwich City FC.
The other half often refers to my “obsession” with everything yellow and green and how even the most obscure subject matter can be turned round to be likened to events unfolding at Carrow Road. As if…
Often I’ve contested this as the uninformed talk of one brought up in a household that supports ‘that lot’, but of course she’s right.
Taking the skeleton as an example: while the premise is clearly to get down the track in the shortest possible time, it doubles as the ultimate test of risk and reward. The first objective of getting to the end of the run in one piece can be achieved by taking a cautious line and ensuring the high banks are tackled at a moderate height. But to win a medal the line has to be one of the Lewis Hamilton ilk, with the high banks being used to propel you faster into the next corner and walls of the run being avoided at all cost.
The result if you’re British is invariably a medal, and is clearly achieved using the high risk strategy.
To inevitably bring it back to City, while not suggesting Chris Hughton is totally risk averse I can’t rid myself of this vision of him careering down the run, clad in green and yellow lycra (bear with me…), with hands and feet scraping the ice to ensure each corner is negotiated safely. The result: a safe finish, but not one that is going to trouble the medal chasers.
Ditto the four-man bobsleigh. Hughton’s desire for caution would make him the ideal brake man, ensuring safety, while the driver (or ‘pilot’ as us experts describe them) would be demanding the opposite.
A little unkind perhaps – and not the best analogy ever – but the thrust being something that was summarised far more eloquently by my MFW colleague Kevin Baldwin when he wrote: ‘… the manager’s propensity for applying the brakes rather than changing gear at vital moments continues to cost us dear.’
And that for me sums it up. The much discussed substitutions at Upton Park were, for me at least, the most visible and obvious sign yet of him applying the ‘the brakes’ when most of us wanted the right foot to hit the throttle. A tipping point if you like.
For the first time this season I looked at the league table, and remaining fixtures, and concluded that in City’s fight for Premier League survival we’re now in the the realms of 50/50. The bookies agree.
Until now I’d been hopeful of a mid-table finish – akin to those achieved over the last two seasons – on the basis of Gary Hooper and/or Ricky van Wolfswinkel belatedly delivering the goods you expect from £13.5million worth of striker.
But Ricky’s continuing struggle and Hooper’s goal drought – after an admittedly promising pre-Christmas spell – have alas dented a belief that had been hitherto absolute. As encouraging as it has been to see the clean-sheet count rise, the only thing that’s getting us out of this mess is goals.
And which is why the imminent return of Jonny Howson can’t come soon enough. Of course match fitness will be an issue, and no-one can expect him to hit the ground running after such a lengthy lay-off, but with goals so hard to come by he’s the one central-midfielder we have who refuses to panic when the chance of fleeting glory beckons.
The old adage of good strikers being at their calmest when presented with a chance in front of goal has failed us of late. Straw-clutching it may be, but perhaps the finest product yet of our Yorkshire academy can return to the fold and show them how it’s done.
McNally’s decision to speak directly to the local press was an unsurprising one given the proximity to the first deadline for season ticket renewal. While I had no specific issue with the board’s silence – which in itself told us Hughton will likely be in situ until the end of the season – it was vital the board did something to acknowledge they understand the growing unrest among supporters.
For all his perceived faults, City’s CEO is the shrewdest of operators and will have been acutely aware of the consequences of saying nothing.
So it’s back to the snowboard cross for me. I’ll keep an eye out for the competitor in green and yellow coasting down out of harm’s way… and the stern-looking bloke at the bottom in a suit, arms crossed, lambasting him for missing out on a place in the final.
Hats off to Chris Goreham, he did a fine job. But I fear more for the bloke on the receiving end of the weekly one-to-one with McNally.