It’s been an extraordinary week in anyone’s book.
If it’s not been paid up members of the Bullingdon Club trying to convince us that they’re one of us by going for the old rolled and sleeves and no tie look, it’s been revolutionary, flip-flopping comedians cosying up to blokes who insist, constantly, the need to “make this very clear”.
And if not those it’s been slightly cranky middle-aged men trying – and failing – desperately to convince us that they and their followers give a hoot about things that don’t begin and end with immigration, or the suave pretty boy who unashamedly clings on to a minuscule sliver of power by hopping into bed with whoever will have him.
And then of course there’s the Scottish woman, the Welsh woman, the Australian, the Ulstermen et al. All of them trying to convince us that ‘judgement day’ was yesterday when, in the real world, we all know it’s tomorrow – and starts at 12:15.
The last six days have naturally prompted column inches and web content aplenty, with those on either side of the fence trying to convince themselves and others that over 180 minutes their team will emerge victorious.
On the yellow side we have logic in our favour. It generally dictates that the best team *should* emerge victorious over the course of 180 minutes – I wrote it myself last Sunday – and having beaten Ipswich twice already this season it also suggests we have the personnel to cope with with what Mick McCarthy’s men will throw at us tomorrow.
And despite MM’s assertion that the league table tells us there is not much to choose between the two sides, I’d say that an eight point gap is a reasonable reflection of the last nine months.
McCarthy has also gone to great lengths to remind us – yet again – of the financial disparity between the two clubs, forgetting as ever that four years ago we achieved Premier League football on a not dissimilar budget to that with which he is currently working. And minus the safety net of a face-less benefactor.
He’s also played the underdog card, the ‘no-one gives us an earthly’ card, the ‘Norwich are favourites, so happy days’ card and the ‘we have absolutely nothing to lose’ card. And I’m sure between now and tomorrow lunchtime he’ll be pulling a few more out of his sleeve, as he continues his one-sided war of words. (It must be *so* irritating when no-one in the other camp ‘bites’).
Alex Neil and his players, for their part, have kept beautifully shtum and have – at least to my knowledge – offered not a single morsel to McCarthy. Nothing for him to add to his players’ diet of raw meat.
But while City have logic and form on their side, and off the field they have played a straight bat that our Geoffrey would be proud of, it’s worth remembering that football can be beautiful and twisted in equal measures. And as such, anything is possible – even over two games.
Norwich City blogger, Duncan Edwards wrote a super piece last weekend in which he almost convinced us that there is nothing to worry about, in particular he picked some gaping holes in the ‘they’re due a win’ and ‘the law of averages’ arguments for an Ipswich victory. For a few fleeting moments the anxiety levels actually decreased.
But when stripped down, it still remains a tie that could go either way – as much as we wish otherwise.
Yes, we have better players on paper but the technical gap is not so huge that City can win without putting in the hard yards. Ipswich have proven over the course of this season that they are dogged, tenacious and resolute – qualities that dictate they are never ‘out’ of a game. Also qualities that lend themselves nicely to knock-out football.
To date, since the arrival of Neil, City have matched those qualities plus some, but have still succumbed to the odd unexpected defeat, albeit never away from home. It happens – that’s football.
At the top level, games are generally tight. Those who find themselves technically inferior still have the nous and tactical wherewithal to defend solidly and every team has the ability to score a goal, let alone a team that boasts the Championship’s top scorer. Wigan, now of League One, sneaked a win at Carrow Road against all the odds. Those type of days do occur… for everyone.
The margins are fine; a poor refereeing decision, a stray pass, a missed tackle, a fluke goal. All can occur to tip the balance, ever more so when in a seething, frothing bearpit of a stadium – just like the one that will welcome our finest tomorrow lunchtime.
But, before anyone accuses me of doom mongering, I’m not suggesting City are not up to the task – of course they are – but amidst the bravado it’s just a nod to the fact that in this game almost anything goes. And on the first blast of the referee’s whistle at 12:15 what’s gone before counts for diddly squat.
Neither does how much you have in your bank account or how many clichés (and cards) your manager has used pre-match. It’s eleven v eleven, every single one of them subject to everyday human frailties – even the seemingly super-human Bradley Johnson – and prone to imprecision and error.
It will be tense, nervy, yet thrilling, and after two games will end in either complete ecstasy of utter desolation – nothing in between. Not dissimilar to that other contest.
Forget boom and bust, this one will reveal the true meaning of boom or bust.
That my head and my heart are telling me the same thing right now counts for nothing.
“Never mind the danger…”