It’s been quite a week.
Thanks to the Sky TV cameras being present when we put Tottenham to the sword and then being on the receiving end of some nonsense from a bloke called Mills on Match of the Day 2 we’ve, for once, been in the public consciousness.
Alas, just when things were bubbling along nicely ahead of Sunday’s match with Aston Villa then comes the blow to the solar plexus. And this time it didn’t come in the form of the twisted ramblings of a former City bench-warmer.
The news of Leroy Fer’s hamstring injury could hardly have come at a worse time. Ahead of Sunday’s six-pointer (sorry, but it is) Chris Hughton would, I’m sure, have liked to name an unchanged side – or at least be given the chance. But no. Instead an injury incurred in training means our own version of Yaya Toure will be missing from action when it kicks off in the Birmingham parish of Aston.
And however we dress it up, it’s a massive blow. Jonny Howson’s imminent return obviously softens it a little – perfect timing as it happens – but to be missing the physical presence offered by our most successful Dutch import of the summer instantly alters the dynamic of City’s midfield.
Thankfully the ‘six to ten weeks’ rumour was a little wide of the mark and Hughton remains hopeful that Fer still has a role to play in the run-in; everything hinging, as always, on the physio’s assessment once the injury has ‘settled’.
But that doesn’t help us on Sunday. Instead, Hughton has a big call to make.
The fit-again Howson is the obvious option – particularly after having completed 60 successful minutes in Monday’s 2-1 development league win over Everton – but tucked up his sleeve is one Wesley Hoolahan; the same one so publicly courted by Paul Lambert in the January transfer window.
Much will depend of course on Howson’s match fitness, but assuming he’s good to go then a start for the ex-Leeds man followed by a late cameo from Wes is perhaps the way ahead. With both more at home in the attacking midfield role – occupied by Fer last Sunday – the City boss at least still has options at his disposal in that regard.
It’s fair to assume Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey will continue in their roles as ‘minders’ at the base of the midfield. Both excelled last Sunday; the former finding time to rattle the crossbar from 25 yards and find the slide-rule pass of the match amidst his closing down, chasing and tackling.
For their part, the ex-City contingent at Villa is doing its best – publicly anyway – to play down any suggestion of Sunday being the latest installment in the longest running grudge match in footballing history. Despite the best efforts of the Birmingham Mail neither Grant Holt nor Lambert have risen to the bait dangled before them; both citing the result rather than the opponent as the important thing.
Privately, having grown to know and love both characters during their time in the Fine City, one suspects neither would like nothing more than to twist the City knife one more time (as if Lambert hasn’t done it enough already) but safe in the knowledge the Birmingham Mail were on the case neither felt the need to stoke up an atmosphere that will likely be white hot come 4pm on Sunday regardless.
To date of course the last laugh has invariably been Lambert’s. His penchant for ‘grudge’ matches is well known, and documented, and his three trips to Carrow Road in a claret and blue tie have been painfully successfully. The only slight blot on his Birmingham landscape is the 1-1 draw at Villa Park a few months into his reign, when Michael Turner opened his Canary account to level things up. Alas as far as McNally vs Lambert goes it’s generally been a little one-sided.
The common denominator throughout has been Villa’s ability to swiftly turn defence into attack. With a forward line that contains the pace and power of Agbonlahor and Benteke the Scot has the perfect armoury to play his natural game of soaking up pressure and hitting teams on the break. It’s no coincidence therefore that his success at Carrow Road – with the onus on the Canaries to ask the questions – wasn’t matched on the one occasion at Villa Park.
On Sunday the pressure will be on Villa to attack – the Holte End will demand nothing less – and rather than sit deep and pick City off on the counter-attack it will be the Villans who will be expected to make things happen. And if the Canaries can succeed in making themselves tough to break down – particularly early on – one imagines the natives could turn a little restless.
And wouldn’t that be music to the ears. Those same cheeky souls who so amused themselves by courting Lambert while Alex McLeish was still in situ getting agitated because their manager’s tactics are misfiring.
Now that would be footballing karma
And if Wes were to score a late winner…
No, ignore me. Just being silly.