The history of the play-offs confirms what we intuitively know: they’re hard to predict, bear little resemblance to what happened in the regular season and tend to be unkind to the team finishing third.
So it would be bizarre, as well as out of character, for me to nail my colours to the mast. But I believe we’ll win the final promotion spot. Perhaps I’m a blinkered fool (actually, there’s no doubt I am), but my confidence has a justification – SEB.
No, not that one (though his form since January has certainly been a factor in our revival). This is SEB in capitals – a formidable combination of the Scot, the Experience and the Backing.
Since the intervention of Nemesis to shoo Paul Lambert out of Aston Villa, there is no longer a Scottish manager in the Premier League.
However, I reckon that situation will be as short-lived as it’s untypical. For some reason, the environs of Glasgow churn out great managers just as the valleys of South Wales used to produce fly-halves. There’s another one making his mark, and he’s ours.
Alex Neil is a huge asset to us. The proof is on the field, of course – 49 points from 22 games brooks no argument. Much of his formula happens on the training ground, out of our sight. But we see and hear some of it, with two examples on Saturday night.
An insecure manager – and there are many of them around – would downplay the special nature of a local derby in the play-offs. Not a bit of it with Alex.
And an insecure manager would stress how much was wrong with the club when he arrived. At the end-of-season dinner, Alex made a point of praising Neil Adams’ work and the good health of the club he walked into in January.
The players see that confidence, security and authority every day in their boss. Does it impact on the field? To coin a phrase, hell, yes.
To succeed under pressure, one of the keys is to have players who are experienced but still in their prime. The ideal age is 26-29, and we have them in abundance – Howson, Benno and Olsson are 26; Hooper and Dorrans 27; Ruddy, Bassong, Tettey, Johnson and Jerome 28; Russell Martin 29.
Add to that the cool head of O’Neil and the still-boundless energy of Wes, and experience should be a significant plus for us.
Then there’s backing. Our fans are magnificent, of course, but we’d be lying if we said they hadn’t been skittish over the past year or two. Even last week, there were unhelpful mutterings. However, Saturday must have been as heartening to the players as it was to me.
Over the years I’ve witnessed the full gamut of ‘laps of honour’, from the triumphant ones of automatic promotion to the frankly embarrassing.
Saturday was a rare occurrence in recent years – a final day on which it was hard to judge the season’s performance, and of course one that wasn’t really a final day at all. But the fans stayed and cheered them from all four corners of Carrow Road without reservation.
That’s an attitude that already gives City a leg-up towards the Premier League before a play-off ball has been kicked.
Looking at the other Championship contenders this season, it seems they reflect the themes of Delia’s books. Derby were Winter Favourites, before they turned soggy. Ipswich went Back to (very) Basics. Meanwhile Middlesbrough were clearly studying How to Cheat.
There’ll be much – no doubt too much – talking this week. But it’s all we have until the action starts. Perhaps we should try to find some insignificant distraction, like a General Election…