Leicester City closing in on a Premier League title.
England winning the Six Nations.
England not breaking our hearts at the Twenty20 World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s England winning… in Germany… in style.
We live in weird sporting times. Or at the very least it’s been a week or so that has not dealt in the norm.
There’s still plenty of time of course for Eoin Morgan’s men to land a straight right to the solar plexus and ditto England’s footballers who, courtesy of a win in a meaningless friendly, now find themselves catapulted from no-hopers to virtual certs to win the Euros.
But, if the combination of lively and talented youngsters that Hodgson has stumbled upon at least makes watching the national team a pleasurable experience rather than a grind then that has to be progress doesn’t it?
Not since Mesut Özil did a lumbering Gareth Barry like a kipper in Bloemfontein have I garnered an ounce of joy out of watching England play but, unless I was mistaken (and I hadn’t been near a glass of anything), last night felt a bit like fun.
Yet there is a very obvious Achilles heel there, one that’s all too familiar to us of a yellow and green persuasion. And it’s one that will hopefully temper the expectations of the majority.
Regardless of Jack Butland’s unfortunate injury there was a horrible simplicity to the way Toni Kroos was permitted time and space to give the Germans the lead and when Mario Gomez made it 2-0 in the softest and simplest way possible the cold sweats started, as did flashbacks of a floundering Russ and a hapless Seb.
Hodgson naturally has rather more options at his disposal than Alex Neil, and is unlikely to be tempted to experiment with Nathaniel Clyne or Kyle Walker at centre-back, but whether four games will be sufficient for him to find his own Timm Klose remains to be seen.
What it needs, in my opinion, as an in-form and fit John Stones to slot in alongside Chris Smalling.
But whatever permutation Roy plumps for in the lead-up to June 11 he now has to handle that old devil called expectation. Until last night few gave England an earthly; many – me included – were half-expecting a Gareth Bale inspired Wales to usurp the English in the charge of the Brits.
It may still happen of course but, like it or not, England did raise their own bar last night. And with 16 teams from 24 qualifying for the knock-out stages the last eight all of a sudden appears a distinct possibility. Then who knows, but by which time the ‘e’ word will have gone through the roof.
And it’s a pain in the arse to manage.
We know about it all too well. It’s something that plagues Norwich City FC every time we get to mix it with the big boys. And we all play a part.
Upon securing promotion via that glorious Wembley day I penned a piece for the Metro in which I reeled off five reasons why City would stay up this time round (they love a list at the Metro). In hindsight it was borne less of logic and more of the adrenalin that was still coursing through the veins as a result of that thrilling afternoon.
Ridiculously, my fifth and final claim of the piece was that, and I quote, They are already better than four or five Premier League teams.
What nonsense. If further proof were needed that I haven’t a clue…
Some, in fairness, were quick to point out that the back-four needed some fairly major surgery if it were to be of a level required but equally I wasn’t alone in being bullish of our chances of survival and beyond.
So while worthy and, in the circumstances, not wholly unreasonable, the expectations had already started creeping upwards. There was talk of the Alex Neil factor carrying us clear of relegation scrum and to mid-table safety. Even before a ball had been kicked.
The trouble is, once that bar of expectation has been raised – and it can soar in an instant – it takes longer to subside; think energy companies and gas prices.
We wanted a season free of the pain of Hughton’s second. We wanted one that would see us compete with those around us and throw the occasional spanner in the works of those who regard a Champions League place as their right. We ourselves dreamed of a cup run.
Instead we’re having one that has a reminiscent feel. We, by and large, have not succeeded as we’d have liked against our peers (albeit the win at Old Trafford could be construed as a giant spanner). And there were to be no cup runs.
And as a result there has been plenty of angst and disappointment – all because we hoped for and expected more.
Yet the reality is (and now I’m joining Alex in sounding like a broken record) with our financial muscle at a lower ceiling than the other 19 teams in the league to have attained the mid-table mediocrity of which we all dreamed would have taken over-achievement of extraordinary levels.
Add into that same mix a manager who by his own admission is still earning his stripes at the top level then it becomes an even bigger struggle.
We bemoan the fine margins that have apparently gone against us and how we are invariably on the wrong end of the 50/50 decisions (we’re not by the way) but in truth we are where we are because right now we’re the 17th best side in the division. And that’s neither unreasonable or disappointing.
It just reflects reality and where Norwich City as a football club is right now.
The next few weeks will decide City’s fate and I’d call it as 50/50 as we head into that titanic battle with the Toon but it’s taken us almost 31 games to finally realign our expectations to realistic levels.
To stay up in a division that is simply awash with cash while we continue to have to make every pound work hard would, in the cold light of day, be a great achievement. And can be done.
If we do manage to pull off our own great escape and, in the process, prove many of the pundits wrong it will exceed the achievement of Wembley, and will be right up there with anything achieved in the club’s proud 114 year history.
And then if Roy could then see fit not to break our hearts in June then it will have been a memorable season all round. If not a bit weird.
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