Until Wednesday night, amidst the comings, goings, highs and lows of season 2014/15 so far, an elephant had been sitting, smirking in the corner of the room. One swathed in blue and white.
Now, almost for the first time since September – and thanks to Chris Hughton’s Brighton – it feels just about okay to talk about it.
For the last three months many have been loathe to mention it; those who dared risked the wrath of the grown ups. But there is no escaping that the rise of Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich cast a shadow over events as they unfolded in deepest Norfolk.
And it’s almost a given that the pressure heaped on Neil Adams and his under-performers was magnified by the rise of those over-achievers from that small town to the south.
For three seasons their results meant little. Now they matter. A little too much in truth – as confirmed by Twitter at 9:50 on Wednesday evening.
While I applaud those who see Town’s successful half-season as ‘irrelevant’, for me, those weekends when, as the song goes, “Ipswich win and Norwich lose” are about as painful as it gets in footballing terms. Alas there were a few of those as autumn met winter.
Of course events in Falmer had an extra edge; two extra edges if there even is such a thing. Brighton’s win was not only an ironic triumph of Hughtonism, but was also critical in the quest for promotion.
A win for McCarthy’s warriors and the gap would have been stretched to ten points; a significant psychological advantage with 19 games left, even with City’s ‘game in hand’.
Instead the ball now very much feels like it’s back in the court of Alex Neil and his new charges. With five of the top six still to visit Carrow Road – starting tomorrow – City are quite possibly just two or three consecutive wins away from having their fate back in their own hands.
Bournemouth, like our friends down the road, are also on the cusp of a mini-wobble and if City or Wolves (or both) win tomorrow the top seven or eight will be concertinaed to a gap of just five points. Five points!
But still, despite both of them losing this week, I expect the Cherries and Ipswich to remain in the hunt. While they are polar opposites in terms of governance and playing style, both are where they are because they have successfully embedded a pattern of play that suits. One relies on the ball being played out from the back and in pretty patterns, the other from back to front with as few complications as possible.
But both do so to good effect. Those expecting their respective bubbles to burst may be disappointed.
Yet who could have predicted that our neighbours would become so preoccupied with the ‘p’ word following the canary-themed lesson they were given back in late August. In terms of single goal victories it was about as comfortable as they get.
Back then the Blues were infinitely more notable for their hipster haircuts and trendy beards than their prowess on the pitch. With Big Mick at the helm relegation was never a serious consideration but they had mid-table mediocrity stamped all over them.
But now who’s laughing?
In my Metro column I have cast the occasional, admittedly churlish, broadside in a southerly direction. The threat of last season’s banner to welcome us ‘home’ to the Championship (which never actually materialised) prompted one such piece. As a results the locals were restless and ruthless.
In the name of banter (am I still permitted to call it that?) those same locals have spent the last three months reminding me, with the help of a few descriptive expletives, of our respective league positions.
And thanks to Neil Adams’ under-performing elite I’ve had no option but to take it on the chin. I’m full to bursting of humble pie. After a while even the old ‘we’ve got more fans than you’ versus ‘we’ve got more history’ wears a little thin.
Yet a win for City tomorrow and the momentum will shift again. Naturally the tricky bit will be achieving it.
Brentford are a good side and a record of seven wins from their last ten league games confirms as much. They will arrive full of confidence and off the back of an impressive win at the Amex. They are fifth for a reason.
Carrow Road will hold no fears for them, in fact they’ll be spoiling for a fight. City have been one of only two teams to win at Griffin Park this season, so they will be keen to put that record straight and – most important of all – desperate to make ground on the top four.
In the Bees’ 125-year history spells in the top tier of English football have been very few are far between, yet their class of 2015 finds itself on the cusp of greatness. As a result they are not about to be in awe of a Carrow Road cauldron and willing to play a supporting role in the Canaries own promotion push.
For City’s part, complacency – both on and off the pitch – cannot and must not be an issue. To coin the usual phrases, tomorrow is massive, a six-pointer, a must-win (all of the above). But, if Neil stays true to form then the chosen XI will be left in no doubt as to precisely what is expected of them.
Both manager and players have spoken eloquently of the task ahead and their continued belief in their ability to achieve the McNally-defined aims.
And now as we approach crunch time it’s time to deliver.
“Never mind the danger…“