Given that City are just two points from the Championship’s summit, yet also just five points from eighth place it’s inevitable that as events unfold eyes are cast elsewhere. If a run-in can be described as fun I guess that’s all part of it.
Intrinsic elements of any promotion or relegation battles are the whispers and rumours that emanate from those with headphones or others who inexplicably find time to look at their phone during a game (have never understood it and never will).
And it will be no different at Carrow Road tomorrow. Any slight twitch from Vicarage Road, the Goldsands Stadium, Griffin Park et al will be instantly relayed around the old place, if not via the gift of modern technology then by the antiquated and dying art of verbal communication.
But it does add to the tension and given the reactive nature of the Yellow Army 2015-style, in some quarters, almost regardless of what’s happening on the green stuff in front of us, City could go from doomed to champions-in-waiting in seconds.
The really good thing of course is that, as exciting and natural as it is to gauge results elsewhere, City’s fate is now in their own hands. While we won’t scoff at a favour here and a leg up there, we are no longer in the realms of purely relying on others to drop points. And given where we were at Christmas, to be in charge of our own destiny is one mighty achievement.
But nothing is decided yet – far from it. The proximity of the top eight is such that nothing is certain; even Middlesbrough not yet assured a play-off berth. All of which makes tomorrow’s clash with Sheffield Wednesday that little bit more of a bum-squeaker.
The Owls arrive in decent fettle and will feel themselves a tad aggrieved at not having secured three points in yesterday’s Yorkshire derby. Having edged ahead of Huddersfield in the 86th minute through Sergiu Bus, they then proceeded to succumb to a last minute equaliser from one Ishmael Miller – him of the thorn in Seb Bassong’s side fame.
Given that Wednesday will have had just 48 hours to prepare for the game – City having had the relative luxury of 72 – I was hoping to read this morning of said Yorkshire derby being a ‘bruising battle’. Sadly, despite some exhaustive research the best I could muster was ‘uneventful’ and ’eminently forgettable’. I’m therefore not expecting the extra 24 hour cushion to be too significant.
In terms of team selection it’s fair to assume the Alex Neil will stick with his tried and tested back-four. Despite Steven Whittaker having endured a tricky afternoon at the Amex, his renaissance under the new regime will be more than enough to see them left unchanged. And it’s no coincidence that City’s upturn in form has been underpinned by a defensive core that has remained in situ since the away game at Birmingham on January 31.
I expect the midfield, injuries and dodgy knees permitting, to also have a similar look. Alex Tettey, Graham Dorrans, Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson look shoo-ins given their form of late (and if fitness allows), with the only obvious decision for Neil to make being a choice between the width of Nathan Redmond or the trickery of Wes Hoolahan.
Both have a case for starting. Wes, despite being contained on Friday by Hughton’s well briefed Seagulls, has been sensational of late and offered us a virtuoso performance in the last home game against Nottingham Forest. Redmond, for his part, proved a game-changer on Friday and was the provider for Bradders’ winner. It’s a tricky one, but expect to see both play a part at some stage.
Up front we can expect to see Cameron Jerome again ploughing that lone furrow. While Gary Hooper offers a decent alternative, it appears the manager perceives him as one who operates more effectively when playing just off the one up top. But he’s a finisher – the most natural at the club – and will surely have a crucial role to play in the next six games.
For our part, we can do little but roar ourselves hoarse and (River End take note) be patient. Wednesday are not going to come and roll over and will be followed, as ever, by a large, vocal contingent. The last thing they will want to see is their team being nothing more than facilitators in City’s route to the top two.
It’s going to be another battle, quite possibly an ugly one again, and if it were offered to me now I’d take a 96th minute winner off the backside of the ref. A win is the only show in town and I’ll take it however it comes.
Now… where the hell did I put those headphones?