So, the clappers are back. A sure sign, if ever I saw one, that the brown stuff and the fan are not a million miles apart.
But if it works… hey, who am I to decry the impact of the clapper when it comes to bum-squeaking run-ins. While it’s stretching it a bit to suggest they were solely responsible for the April /May 2013 home wins that saw us ultimately stroll to Premier League safety, the clapper/legend combo did coincide with an upturn in fortunes on the pitch. The same sort of upturn it’s going to take to avert a crisis of Championship proportions this time round.
It’s impossible to knock those who are desperately trying to turn Carrow Road into a 2011 Derby/Goreham/Jackson-type cauldron – why wouldn’t we want one – but the Yellow Army will need no reminding of the magnitude and importance of the occasion. For all the off-field division, the Carrow Road crowd have seldom faltered this season when the team have needed them.
I’m fairly sure that 25,000 folk clad in yellow and green will do their bit this afternoon. It’s the chosen eleven I’m more concerned about.
I was asked this week to contribute to a Sunderland podcast and was interested to hear those in the North-East perceive Sunderland’s biggest issue as a lack of creativity. They struggle to break down sides whose intention is not to concede; last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light a perfect example. But they do fancy their chances against teams who ‘go at them’.
They see an away game at Norwich as one that will suit them on the basis that City will ‘go for it’. Their strength is not in unpicking locks (which sounds horribly familiar…)
All of which makes for a Team Hughton conundrum. The Black Cats will, it seems, look to soak up City pressure and hit them on the counter-attack. The Carrow Road crowd – quite rightly – will demand the game is played on the front foot.
As ever much will hinge on the start City make. If we are able to dominate possession early on, stay solid at the back and, heaven forbid, snatch an early goal then the need to press high up the pitch and give Sunderland that chance to play on the counter-attack will reduce.
If the early goal doesn’t arrive – and there’s no logic to suggest it will – then it’s down to Hughton to get the balancing act right.
I genuinely hope the desire not to concede doesn’t detract from the need to score – as often appears the case on the road – and they are able to find the right balance, but either way patience is sure to be a virtue.
I’d loved to be proved wrong but a goal-fest is about as likely as seeing Paul Lambert snuggled up alongside David McNally in the directors box. Most pundits (and me) have gone with a 0-0 or a 1-0 either way and it’s hard to contest (which virtually guarantees goal galore this afternoon…).
In terms of a starting XI is virtually impossible to second-guess Hughton’s thoughts. If a 1-1 draw with Stoke was sufficient to prompt five changes one can only imagine his thinking following the debacle at St Mary’s. Only John Ruddy, Martin Olsson (an intact shoulder permitting) and Alex Tettey look guaranteed a starting place; the other eight are up for grabs.
As ever (and please let’s not dig too deep into the stats…) Wes Hoolahan’s inclusion or otherwise is an interesting one. The Sunderland pundits waxed lyrical of the Dubliner’s talents and spoke of their surprise at him not being a regular. And while it’s a view often shared by those who don’t watch him every week, it says something of his reputation that folk breathe a sigh of relief when he’s NOT playing against them.
At just 31 years-old, I’d argue there’s still plenty left in the Hoolahan tank even if – as appeared the case in January – they may not necessarily be played out in a yellow jersey. But, given events at Villa Park and the ensuing fallout, I reckon we’re owed one by our once-favourite Irishman. If opportunity knocks for Wes this afternoon I can’t think of a better way for him to repay us than with some vintage wizardry – and in doing so confirming the worst fears of the Sunderland pundits. That would be good.
Having said that, minus some ‘Wes magic’ I’ll happily take a spark from any other member of the class of 2013/14.
Fun and excitement have been in all too short supply this season. Only yesterday a tweeter alluded to this season being the least joy-filled he could recall in over 40 years of supporting City. And fellow MyFootballWriter columnist Kevin Baldwin wrote, a couple of weeks ago, of this season being so bereft of highlights it will be one that, in years to come, will likely fade from the memory.
But the romantic in me believes there’s still a twist. Still a moment that will give Chris Gorham another chance to open the larynx in a Simeon Jackson-style.
As ever, we’ll all head to Carrow Road, or tune in, in a few hours time and believe. Believe that despite what’s gone before, today’s the day when season 2013/14 finally springs to life and gives us a YouTube moment to cling on to and watch over and over in years to come. I’m thinking John Polston v Villa April 1993, Chris Martin v Leeds March 2010 or perhaps Grant Holt v Derby 2011; stuff to make the adrenalin pump and hairs on the back of the neck stand up.
That’s not asking too much is it? Let’s keep believing folks.
“Never mind the danger…”