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…”