It’s certainly a big week – the biggest so far this season.
This evening (thanks fixture computer) sees City face arguably their toughest Championship away day, at Newcastle United, before a tricky looking trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of the awaiting TV cameras.
A win in either of these games would likely see us maintain a position in the top two going into the international break – a far cry from the last one, which saw toys being frantically thrown from prams.
And, Birmingham aside, it’s been a positive start. Moving to the top of the table on the back of five straight wins is the perfect way to head up to Geordie land.
City refused to ‘go for a Burton’ and, despite an impressive display from our first-time visitors, ran out relatively comfortable winners – even allowing for our now customary penalty miss.
Oddly, it almost feels like we are in a false position, partly because we haven’t really played particularly well this season, and also due to the majority of our opponents so far, residing in the lower reaches of the division.
But you can only beat what is put in front of you and the last time we were in this division our Achilles heel was a failure to win against the so-called lesser lights.
It was a wonderful moment to see Ivo Pinto lash in an unstoppable last minute clincher on Saturday and Martin Olsson, who is also playing very well, added a goal himself – both full backs currently offering so much going forward.
We definitely have enough creative spark to scare every single club in this division but there are concerns about the soft underbelly that appears to have rolled over from last season. I worry that a better side will take full advantage, where Burton failed to. The goal we conceded at the weekend was beyond calamitous.
It’s difficult to know what we could change. Michael McGovern has come in and done fine. And at centre back there’s really nothing between Ryan Bennett and Russell Martin – it’s a judgement call. Martin takes too many risks but adds a few goals; Bennett hoofs the ball far too much but appears calmer defensively.
Both have strengths, both have weaknesses – but both are good enough for this level.
Even Timm Klose is looking a little wobbly. He’s like a Rolls Royce whose owner has chosen to take it off-road. I personally think he’s far too good for this division – and I think he knows it too. He isn’t concentrating – but he’s still our best centre back and it’s vital he stays fit.
Rafa Benitez (he won the Champions League by the way – not sure if it’s been mentioned) could do a lot worse than throw Daryl Murphy into the fold. Klose struggled to deal with his physicality back in August.
Last time at St James’ Park, we witnessed one of the most bizarre matches I can recall. It ended 6-2 (as if you’d forgotten…) but had that score line been reversed I doubt many would have been surprised.
It was also the match where Alex Neil began to doubt his own philosophy. Never mind driving a bus through our defence – it could have been a Boeing 747.
As a result Neil went back to the drawing board to try and find a more balanced, defensive mix.
It didn’t really work.
I believe relegation has allowed him to go back to a more open and expansive way of playing, pushing full backs high – and I for one am happy with that, despite the obvious defensive flaws it presents.
Having said that, given last season’s collapse at the same venue, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alex Tettey return to ‘stiffen up’ the midfield. Offered a choice between Jonny Howson and Graham Dorrans, I’d expect it’d be at the latter’s expense – which would be a shame as he has played exceptionally well since returning from injury.
We will likely face far greater pressure than we have at any time during this season and concentrating defensively while hitting our opponents on the counter attack and being clinical in front of goal will be key to getting a positive result.
Newcastle have been a little hit and miss thus far. From slaughtering QPR in West London, to capitulating at home to Wolves, you feel the ‘Toon’ haven’t quite hit upon the right formula just yet – especially at home. And they will be frustrated following their late draw at Villa Park too, having dominated for long spells.
We know all about Newcastle. They have had a high turnover of players and brought in established Championship players – all for a large profit. They were always likely to have a patchy start given the changes made.
For my money, anyone who finishes above both Norwich and Newcastle will be promoted this season.
But this is a game the home side can’t really afford to lose, even at this early stage. Dropping seven points behind the leaders after only ten games would mean serious questions will be asked of the manager.
Wolves, on the other hand, are a bit of an unknown. Big finance is now available at Molineux, but most seems to have been spent on wages rather than transfer fees at this stage.
The injection of new blood from Benfica gives them a continental flair, and the word from fans is that the style of play under the flamboyant Walter Zenga has improved ten-fold on last season, even if results have, like Newcastle, been up and down.
There’s no reason why we can’t win both matches. Equally, given our poor records at both grounds, it is entirely possible we will lose both – such is the nature of this league.
I’d probably be happy with two draws – keep the unbeaten run going, deny two possible promotion contenders gaining on us – and it would leave us with 22 points from 11 games. Bang on track for the ultimate goal.
Follow James on Twitter @JamesFinbow