Why oh why do we do it to ourselves?
Buoyed by the recent mini-revival we kidded ourselves that Selhurst Park was there to be conquered. It mattered not that City hadn’t won there for 20 years, nor that it ticked every box possible in the ‘along came Norwich’ theory; we were collectively convinced that yesterday would be another small step towards survival.
Instead, as is so often the case when you support the Canaries, it was another lesson in not getting get too carried-away and not thinking too far ahead. And just when we needed them to continue the recent run of trend-bucking they reverted back to type.
It was one of those that was low on quality but high on twitchiness, and one that was always going to hinge on the fine margins. In the end a Michael Oliver decision that went against us and a moment of quality from Jason Puncheon were those fine margins and the pain and angst of which we have been free for a few weeks were to return in shovel fulls.
It was Swansea all over again when we needed it to be West Brom, the only real surprise being that Dwight Gayle didn’t get the goal and that Connor Wickham didn’t grab a second for Palace in his late cameo.
But, despite the outpouring of Twitter grief and the volley of dummies from prams that accompanied Oliver’s final whistle, Palace have not inflicted a final, fatal blow to City’s chances of survival. They’ve just given our forward momentum a nasty jolt.
The equation hasn’t changed significantly and a win next week against Sunderland is now no more or less important than it was at 2:59 pm yesterday. And given how well City managed last week’s game with Newcastle in very similar circumstances we need to trust them to do the same again.
To have expected consecutive away wins when we have only won two all season was a big ask. If survival is to be achieved it’s likely to be achieved by virtue of the home form and the other two remaining games, against Manchester United and Watford, still loom very large.
As far as yesterday’s game goes, it was a performance that just didn’t click. Crucially, Dieumerci Mbokani was unable to physically dominate Dann and Delaney in the way he did Taylor and Mbemba, and had far less joy in the air.
As a consequence Steven Naismith became a peripheral figure and whereas last week City were able to get the ball down and play in the final third, this time round the quality in that area went missing.
Minus the ball ‘sticking’ to Mbokani, especially when the Canaries (by choice or otherwise) chose regularly to go long to the Congolese striker, there was little for Naismith to feed off and little by way of decent supply to Robbie Brady and Matt Jarvis, both of whom also came under the peripheral heading.
Yet it was the turned down penalty appeal that turned the game the way of Pardew’s men.
A goal then would have given City the initiative and would have provided the perfect platform for another Hawthorn’s type performance but Delaney’s crude challenge was played out in front of the Holmesdale Fanatics and with Pardew seemingly Oliver’s number one cheerleader it was never going to happen.
Our run of not being awarded a penalty away from home looks likely to stretch the entire season.
Oliver’s decision not to point to the spot was the first sign of it not being City’s afternoon. The cruel loss of Timm Klose at a time when he has emerged as our survival talisman was the second.
In the medium term hopefully Alex Neil’s description of his injury requiring “a minimal lay-off” isn’t just wishful thinking but in the short-term it had an almost immediate impact. Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett both look assured and decisive when playing alongside the Swiss international but less so when playing alongside each other.
City didn’t implode yesterday – as has been the case in the recent past – and Palace only looked liked getting a second when City were forced to over-commit late on, but a back-four with Klose slap bang in the middle of it adds some unequivocal oomph to our survival dream.
Alex’s decision to offer the floor to Patrick Bamford instead of Wes was one he may now regret, particularly given how it panned out for the Chelsea loanee, but there was a certain footballing logic in giving him the chance to show Pardew what he is capable of. It didn’t work.
So, for one afternoon only we all become Leicester City fans and if (big *if*) Ranieri’s men can continue their seemingly unstoppable march to the title by winning at the Stadium of Light then it’ll be a case of ‘as you were’.
If however the worst happens, and Big Sam has been telling us all week how well the Black Cats are playing, then we take it on the chin, act like grown ups and gear ourselves up for a massive one on Saturday.
And that’s something to look forward to isn’t it? Or would we prefer 14, soon to be 15, seasons of Championship mid-table nothingness?
“Never mind the danger…”