I hope this article is irrelevant and useless.
‘So what’s new?’ I hear you muttering. But there’s a point this time – I’m writing about the play-offs and what it takes to win through them. We shouldn’t give up hope that fate – or more specifically Chris Hughton – will re-open the door for us to automatic promotion, but I’m not counting on it.
So where do we stand? First, remarkably well. I’m sure no-one batted an eyelid when Gary, at the weekend, described the prospect of the play-offs as ‘assuming the worst’. Hang on a moment, though. Barely three months ago, the prospect of being in the play-offs was a dream rather than a nightmare.
It’s a sign of how far we’ve come, materially and psychologically, that we’re now disappointed at missing out on automatic promotion.
One of the keys from here is to set aside that sense of disappointment. The history of the play-offs has clear lessons, and we don’t have to delve into arcane football stats to find them: most of them shine out of our own experience in 2002.
Mention the 2002 play-offs and we automatically (I’m starting to go off that word) think of Cardiff in May and all the mixed memories of that final. But let’s rewind to April, 28.
City had finished 6th, giving us a two-legged tie against Wolves – who had finished 3rd, well ahead of us and everyone’s favourite. After all, they’d been in the top two for much of the previous three months while we were scratching around below the top six.
That background proved decisive – but not in the way most people expected. Having missed out on automatic promotion, Wolves were starting to feel sorry for themselves and were short of a vital ingredient for the play-offs: resilience.
In the first leg at Carrow Road they actually led at half-time. But as soon as Mark Rivers equalised belief drained out of them. We scored a second (the one that’s etched on my memory – the majestic header by Paul McVeigh) and then broke them down again in the last minute.
The 3-1 scoreline was too much for Wolves to claw back in their home leg, and we were on our way to the Millenium Stadium. What brought Wolves down wasn’t lack of quality, but lack of belief. Belief that keeps the heart pumping and the legs moving.
This time, of course, the boot is likely to be on the other foot. If we miss out on the automatic spots, we’ll finish third or fourth and will thus face two legs against – most likely – Derby or Ipswich, with the advantage of the home leg second. We’ll be favourites.
Unlike Wolves in 2002, we haven’t been in the top two for any real time. However, the danger still looms of a sense of disappointment and anti-climax, which would be a cancer in the body of our promotion hopes. Alex Neil – who knows a thing or two about winning local derbies and play-offs – will be drilling the right attitude into the players. It’s crucial that we fans drill the right attitude into ourselves too. No negativity, no regrets.
Despite our record against them this season, I’d love another crack at Middlesbrough in the final. Revenge is a powerful motivation and beating them would be doubly sweet. And perhaps this time we’d have a referee who could tell when he was being conned.
I fully expect to be up at 3am on May 25, the day of the play-off final. That may seem a bit keen to those of you who know that I live around half an hour from Wembley. Except I won’t be there.
The important member of the Lewis household, ie Mrs Lewis, was invited to speak at a conference in Brisbane, Australia. The organisers clearly had no consideration for the likelihood of Norwich being in the play-off final, so on May 25 we’ll be a long way from home. So far, in fact, that it’ll be something like a three o’clock kick-off – but 3am rather than 3pm.
If we win, I’ll try to keep my voice down to a roar.