Madness. On a scale of tightness, the top six now lies somewhere between a gnat’s chuff and a Yorkshireman’s wallet (no offence to Jonny Howson).
Nerve-racking? You bet. Exciting? Just a smidge.
I’m not sure if Alex Neil is a fan of Billy Ocean – he would have been in a nappy still when the 80s chart-topping maestro was in his prime – but he does give off the aura of someone whose mental strength is up to the sternest of challenges. He’s a survivor under pressure.
When he was appointed to take over from Neil Adams, the first reaction from most Canaries’ fans was, “Who?”
The second reaction was, “He’s Scottish. Hello – Paul Lambert is Scottish.”
The Lambert comparisons immediately generated excitement. It was great last time we had a steely Scot in charge and therefore by logical extension, it would be great this time.
Lambert kicked off his management days over the border with Livingston. As we all know by now, Neil earned his touchline spurs at Hamilton Academicals, guiding them to play-off glory and the top tier for the start of 2014-15.
Some achievement at the Accies by Neil – and his loyal sidekick Frankie – and quite the contrast to Lambert whose time at ‘the Livi’ was a short-lived disaster with just five wins out of 32 games.
In Norfolk, Neil soon got into the groove. His first couple of months at Carrow Road have been more than respectable – it was starting to feel as though every little thing he did was magic.
In the blink of an eye he was February’s Skybet Manager of the Month – professional recognition for turning his team around a different corner and kicking an expensive squad back to life in the tightest Championship promotion scrap in many a season.
Even that old ‘True Blue’, George Burley – chairman of the Skybet judging panel – reluctantly complimented the new Canaries’ boss: “This is a fantastic start to his managerial career with Norwich City.”
Only Nigel Worthington – in December 2005 – has previously picked up that accolade for services to the yellow and green cause.
Lambert was remarkably overlooked throughout the 2010-11 season despite losing just once in the whole of the storming March and April run-in; Malky at Watford and McDermott at Reading piping him to the award in those months – a travesty.
Of course, with the much mooted Manager of the Month curse it is questionable whether it’s a good or a bad thing for our man to receive it just as the final countdown begins and we move closer to the climax of the season.
Before you could say ‘nothing’s gonna stop us now’, Wham! Along came March and Wigan.
If the Romans had invented football, they may have said, “beware the s-ides of March.”
Fortunately, Millwall were mere pussycats rather than the Lions on their shirts and with other results going our way, it’s all cued up for the big locking of horns with the Rams.
There is still much Championship road to travel before a true assessment can be made and a realistic comparison with Lambo’s achievements.
From now until around 2pm on the 2nd May, it’s got to be(ee) perfect – almost.
But will it be a smooth and painless last ten games of the season for our cultured club? We should be so lucky.
How to cope? Relax.
If the automatic spots do slip through City’s hands, and the play-offs are our fate, then Alex Neil is a damned fine character to have control our destiny. After all, he’s got form.
I must confess that the exploits of Neil and his Accies of last season completely avoided my attention. Turns out they did it ‘the hard way’ as City may have to in May.
Neil and his tartan troops squeaked through 2-1 in a semi-final double legger against Falkirk before an even more nail-biting play-off final experience.
After losing 2-0 at home to Hibs in the first leg, the writing must have been on the wall. However, the manner in which Neil got his team over the line was remarkable – Tony Andreu getting a 93rd minute tie-leveller which sparked a penalty shoot-out from which Neil and team emerged triumphant. Andreu scored his penalty.
Such exploits are the stuff of legend. No wonder Neil quickly rewarded the ‘French Fabregas’ with a move down south as his first signing at Norwich.
For the sake of my ticker, it would be good if our promotion efforts didn’t go so close to the wire. However, with that backs-to-the-wall, winning mentality already engrained in our manager and a cool French penalty taker on board, we might just have the upper hand.
What of the top-flight career of Lambert? Well, ashes to ashes for now.
Judging by the hysterical outpouring from Villa fans after one FA cup win, the previous era there must have been truly grim.
For City, Neil and Lambert, the only way is up… surely?