I was asked in the week – in my capacity as a blogger for one of the bottom eight – to answer a few questions for a collaborative piece in today’s Observer. It simply sought the views of those whose teams are embroiled in said scrap.
Predictably the final question was to name the final bottom three. Equally predictable was that seven of the eight folk questioned see the Canaries as fodder for the drop. Only one was daft enough to suggest we could avoid it… but I just couldn’t bring myself to say publicly what evidently appears obvious to everyone outside the Canary Nation.
Besides, it would feel a bit like giving up and I’m not ready for the white flag just yet.
And it’s also that thing of it being okay to have a moan and whinge about your own team but woe betide those who don’t have any emotional involvement to criticise; all part of the reason why, of late, I’ve found Match of the Day about as palatable as EastEnders.
But, if I’m brutally honest, as things stand it was only by virtue of the green and yellow tinted specs that I felt able to predict safety for City. Armed with form, logic and almost every other scrap of evidence available everything points to it being a tough couple of months for us – as confirmed by the seven other contributors.
Key, of course, to avoiding David McNally’s ‘fate worse than death’ is to arrest the slide that began with that 3-0 FA Cup defeat against Manchester City, but with a trip to Leicester next up being followed three days later by a visit from Chelsea that appears a big ask.
Some have been talking up our chances at the King Power Stadium – and much depends on how the Foxes react to that late, painful blow to the solar plexus at the Emirates – but given our ongoing struggle to contain those who look to pick us off with pace and power on the counter-attack, Claudio Ranieri will perceive the Canaries as a perfect fit.
Alex Neil meanwhile will be looking to cement a set-up that will allow us to play on the front foot without leaving us over-exposed to the pace of Vardy and co – an unenviable task. And also core to that plan will be eradicating all, not just most, individual errors – another unenviable task.
Chelsea then offer a quite different threat – not least because they simply have oodles of quality. To go toe-to-toe with the likes of Fabregas, Oscar and Willian, when they are just better players, is a risk right up there with assuming Hazard will continue to be rubbish for the rest of the season.
Guus Hiddink is nothing if not switched on and will no doubt have already familiarised himself with the ‘along came Norwich’ theory. He will therefore have pencilled in the trip to Carrow Road as the starting point for Hazard’s renaissance .
In truth, if anyone were to offer us a point at the King Power and another at Carrow Road three days later we’d whip their hand off wouldn’t we? Either way the smart money has to be on City being in the bottom three by the time we make the long journey west to Swansea on March 5.
And then it really is crunch time.
By then, assuming we’re unable to buck the trends of the form book in the seven days previous, we’ll be in the realms of four or five wins needed from ten games. The realms of ‘must win’. And then we’ll know if the fancy talk of ‘big kahunas’ and fire in the belly is just that… talk.
Another Villa-type display would not only make the maths more about the laws of probability but would surely drain away any lingering belief and afford a nice warm, fuzzy feeling to the Observer’s ‘magnificent seven’. But let’s no go there… at least not until we have to.
Of more comfort is that we still have to go the Hawthorns and Selhurst Park, and that (*drum roll*) Newcastle, Sunderland and Watford still have to make the trek eastwards.
And there’s the crux.
Perhaps along the way we’ll pick up a point or three when it’s not expected – it happens to others, why not us? – but amidst those five games there really is little margin for error. It’s when those dropped points at home v Liverpool and West Ham really come back to sink their teeth into your backside.
But, as I said at the start of this piece, I’m not ready to concede. Not least because it really grinds my gears when folk write us off – just as we have been in the Observer.
Alex doesn’t strike me as the type to go down without a fight; that’s not in his make-up. Frankie McAvoy proved to me in his no-nonsense retort to Jürgen Klopp that he too is not to be messed with. And we know from Gary Holt’s ‘three lungs’ that he’ll give his last breath to the cause.
If we go down because we’re not good enough, that’s different. But to sleepwalk to relegation, a la the final weeks of the Hughton reign, is not even on the table.
Let’s pull together and fight this.