In his final MyFootballWriter piece yesterday, Kevin Baldwin wrote eloquently, as ever, on the part the footballing gods still have to play in the Canaries’ fate.
If they opt to lead us down the romantic path, a trip to Wembley would be a wonderful way to mark the 30th anniversary of City’s Milk Cup win but equally they may instead prefer a mischievous route – one akin to the 50th anniversary of the 1959 FA Cup run being ‘celebrated’ with a return to the third tier.
Whether they now have any interest in tomorrow’s visit from Fulham is a moot point – one suspects they will be more interested in events at Blackburn, Derby and Brentford – but the fact it’s not a game on which our whole season hinges suggests that somewhere along the line they missed a trick.
Ever since the Championship fixtures were released back in June of last year, the smart money was always on City needing to beat Fulham on the final day to either secure a top two finish or a place in the play-offs.
It seemed inevitable. That the only thing at stake is third or fourth place in the Championship makes it the biggest anti-climax since March’s solar eclipse.
The proverbial jury is still out on whether it now offers Alex Neil an opportunity to rest some weary limbs and give game time to those on the fringes – like Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, Jamar Loza and Tony Andreu – or whether it’s more important to regain that winning feeling ahead of the play-offs.
The two are not mutually exclusive of course, and it would be great for a ‘second XI’ to win the game, but logic dictates the win is more likely to be achieved by picking the strongest eleven.
And I think that’s more important than wrapping our prized assets in cotton wool.
To enter the play-off semi-final first-leg off the back of a three-game win-less run would be far from ideal and would mean that City enter the mini-tournament minus the momentum that, until the Middlesbrough defeat, had threatened to see us crash into the automatic spots.
The flip side – and this has been the subject of much debate on Twitter and the messageboards – is that a Gary Hooper or a Cameron Jerome picks up an injury that keeps them out of the play-off semi-final, and then the inquests would open as to why they were risked in a ‘nothing’ game.
But I think that’s a calculated risk worth taking.
Fulham for their part, and for numerous reasons, will be a tough nut to crack regardless of the chosen XI and will be keen not to be merely participants in a warm-up game for the Canaries’ play-off challenge.
Unbeaten in five games, they will be desperate to sign off with a good performance and a win, and offer their travelling faithful a memorable end to a disappointing season.
As an attacking force the Cottagers possess more than enough to occupy a City rearguard – even one that has continued to be miserly in the midst of a mini-wobble – and in Hugo Rodallega and Ross McCormack they have, on paper, one of the Championship’s strongest pairings; the former a regular thorn in the Canary side.
And then there’s that bloody hoodoo.
At the risk of covering old ground (why change the habit of a lifetime) the last time City beat Fulham at Carrow Road, Cliff Richard and the Young Ones were at number one in the pop charts with their collaborative version of Living Doll; The Money Pit, A Room with a View and Pretty in Pink were on at the cinema and Ronald Reagan was still flirting with Maggie Thatcher.
The date of said victory was March 29, 1986 and City, having been relegated the previous season, were en route back to Division One at the first attempt (in the spirit of straw clutching I’m taking that as a sign).
In a narrow 2-1 win, the scorers for City that day were Mark Barham and John Deehan, with Fulham’s reply coming from none other than Dean Coney – a feat that was not to be repeated!
If, 29 years on, City can do the impossible and secure a win, preferably accompanied by a clean bill of health, they will be set up nicely for the two – hopefully three – tests of nerve that lie ahead.
Alex Neil, for his part, will naturally be desperate for for the win, will demand nothing less than 100 per cent from his men, and will not be spooked in the slightest by a win-less run against the Cottagers that dates back to when he was preparing to start primary school (and I get the distinct impression he’s not a great believer in hoodoos and bogey teams).
But equally, an afternoon that does not yield three points will not affect his preparations for next weekend one iota.
The steely resolve and meticulous planning that took us to the cusp of the automatics will be drawn on once again, and I trust him implicitly to prepare a team capable of beating any of the four ‘possibles’ over two legs.
In a one-off – such as a play-off final – anything is possible, but with 180 minutes to find a way to win any Neil-built team will be hard to beat.
Let’s get Fulham out of the way, try and enjoy it even, and then the hard work starts all over again.
“On the Ball City…”
Stewart Lewis says
Ah, Dean Coney… Must be the only City player to score with his backside but never with his feet.
Agree about momentum and the need – on balance – for a strong side tomorrow. From his comments, I suspect AN feels the same.
Good stuff as ever, Gary.
Stewart Lewis says
PS to my last comment.
Now you’ve got us thinking about Dean Coney, he clearly wasn’t the best money we’ve ever spent on a player. But who is? First thought that comes to my mind is the £10,000 we gave Colchester for Duncan Forbes. But I’m sure others can do better…
Gary Field says
How many times have thought, or written, “surely we’ll beat Fulham tomorrow?” After their heroic performance last weekend against Middlesbrough, I’m now thinking, “surely, not again?”
And wasn’t it the impressive form of Rodellega last April which made Adams think, “I’ll drop Bassong.”
A timely win is required and I really can’t see Alex Neil making wholesale changes just to keep some fresh for the play offs.
Ben K says
I agree, Gary F. I’m confident that we’ll beat Fulham. Going into the play-offs on the back of a decent victory would be a very good thing, and I think the players and management will feel strongly about that.
Stewart: Martin Peters? I don’t know the amount but he was a hell of a signing.
Mark Robins? £800k looks like a bargain now, and did then.
What about Grant Holt? Less than Robins, 17 years on.
Has there been a bigger flop than Ricky van Wolfswinkel?
Cosmo P says
Beating Fulham – the dream. Be good for confidence and to end the jinx..not to mention some measure of payback for that 6-0 final day-relegation nightmare they dished out. That has to be avenged sometime surely? Maybe we could unleash Becchio on them as a surprise tactic?
*Stewart – like Ben, Martin Peters – it was 50k.
*Ben – RVW question – answer..No. I see he’s now a bench warmer in France. Can’t we sell him to Watford to jinx their season?
Michael D says
On your point, Gary, about whether Alex Neil rests some players for the Fulham game, I would put it the other way round. I think it would be great to see players like Vadis and Gary O’Neil get some game time, even Loza, so AN can assess whether they can play a useful role in the play-offs.
In the three games in a week that culminated in the Middlesbrough defeat, my one quibble with Neil’s personnel management is that he used too few players for that intensive run. In particular, Vadis, O’Neil, and Hooper received little game time, despite the need to keep the team as fresh as possible for the Middlesbrough game, and the result was they were jaded. Vadis has looked useful when given the game time, and I am not sure why you bring in someone who has played for Belgium only to sit him on the bench even when he is fully fit.
Maybe he did it too much at times, but one thing Lambert was good at was mixing up the squad, and keeping things competitive within it.
Jon Dunn says
I’d be inclined to try Andreu (for Wes?) and V-O-O (for Tettey?). If thay have a stormer vs Fulham, then great – nice selection problems for the gaffer next weekend. If not, no worries, a rested a champing-at-the-bit Hoolahoops and Tettey should be ready to go again for the first play-off game.
Plus – as has already been well documented, who’s a silly boy Lewis? Piling extra pressure on either Hooper or Jerome (or both?) when we could use one of them fresh as a daisy next week.
Gary Gowers says
Michael (6) – You make a good point re utilising the same team week in week out, but guess he was operating under the ‘don’t change a winning team’ theory. Gary O’Neil, given his recent experience of the play-offs, needs little ‘warm up’ time but for VOO and co, I agree it could be important
Stewart Lewis says
Ben (4): great call re Martin Peters. Classiest player I’ve ever had the pleasure to see in a Canary shirt.
Mark Robins was a great signing. But £800k was a lot of money back in 1992, and he only actually scored 20 goals for us. For value, surely he’s beaten by Grant Holt – arguably a more transformational acquisition, for half the price (and 17 years later).
How about Ted McDougall – £140k, scoring 66 goals for us at 1 in every 2 games? Graham Paddon at £25k? Steve Bruce at £135k (worth it just for the semi-final winner vs Ipswich)?
The £100k for Bryan Gunn wasn’t bad either…
Ash Diback says
That full Fulham horror show since ’86 is played 17, drawn 4, lost 13 – scored 6, conceded 35! Don’t think AN is one for history but personally, I would be pinning that up on the dressing room wall for a bit of extra motivation.
Kev ‘the cat’ Keelan cost 6.5k in 1963 (equates to 125 K today).
Gary Field says
Michael (6) & Gary (8) – It’s an interesting question, to which there is probably no simple answer.
On the one hand, I can see the logic behind suggesting it’s a nothing fixture, so why risk players X, Y & Z.
On the other, we’ve not won the past two games and I’m sure Alex Neil won’t want that to extend to a third game. He’ll almost certanly want to win the game.
I suspect that there will be a pragmatic approach. Players are rarely 100% fit at this stage of the season and, if Alex Neil thinks that a particular player may only give him 60 to 70 minutes, then it’s probably worth resting him.
I guess we’ll all have to wait until 11.15 tomorrow morning when the team selection is revealed.
Chris Riches says
Gary F. (11)
I think the fact we’ve not won the past two games would be the perfect reason to change the side. Presumably that was AN’s thinking when starting with Grabban against ‘Boro?
I’d leave the defence unchanged, but mix up midfield and start with Loza. Time for Hooper & Jerome to come on for a half-hour later.
Gary Field says
Chris (12) I thought Jerome had a tight hamstring problem and that’s why he wasn’t risked at the start?
Notwithstanding this, I agree that certain players weren’t 100% at Rotherham.
Bradley seemed to “run out of steam” towards the end (although that’s not surprising, given how long we played with ten. Also, the form of Wes has dipped since we played Sheffield Wednesday.
My point is, I’m not expecting wholesale changes for Fulham.
Cosmo P(2) says
Dean Coney cost us 350k (today – 890k!). One goal was the return – not quite up there with master Ricky but not far off.
Former (?) MFW columnist Ed, summed up his career at Carrow Road a while back in a top 11 of flops with Dean at no. 9;
He’s now a Ladbrokes manager. Cheers for the memories ‘Dixie’.