My university tutor was a pioneer in the field of semiotics.
If I’d spent less of my time on extra-curricular activities, I’d perhaps be able to tell you exactly what it is. But it’s something to do with the process of signs and meanings.
Highly relevant, then, in considering our win over Sheffield Wednesday.
Before I do that, a disclaimer. My article last week was meant to be conciliatory; there’s a divide among our fan base, and I’ve no wish to inflame it. The past few weeks have been miserable in results and entertainment, while underlying financial challenges loom ever larger. It’s not been fun.
So this week’s piece is in the same vein. It shouldn’t make you angry with me – though I’ll have no complaints if you decide I’m certifiably mad.
The scenario I’m going to paint is improbable. It’s unlikely to happen. But it just might.
It brings together two strands: the manner of our win over the Owls, and the history of the Championship.
In every sport, teams and individuals have bad runs. Sometimes it takes a slice of luck to break the run: the batsman who’s dropped early in his innings and goes on to make a century, the team that gets away with a dodgy penalty decision and goes on to scrape its much-needed win, and so on.
In other cases, the run is broken by sheer roll-up-your-sleeves determination and quality play. That’s what we saw on Saturday. The team wasn’t helped by an (understandably) subdued Carrow Road crowd; it was the players who provided the spark that the fans eventually responded to.
When a bad run is ended that way, it gives the team a big lift. Our win at Sheffield United in September, of course, inspired the eight-game unbeaten sequence. Confidence is a massive factor in this division.
Speaking of which, the Championship has an interesting feature. Virtually every season, a team from the pack in December emerges to force its way into the play-offs, and often beyond.
We should be acutely aware of this. In our last promotion season, we stood ninth in December. The run inspired by Alex Neil took us not only into the top six, but to a real shot at automatic promotion before we ended up at Wembley and in the Premier League.
That’s the norm rather than the exception. Last season Fulham were tenth at this stage, their fans bemoaning that the season was over. They were wrong. Fulham made the playoffs and many were surprised (me included) that they didn’t go all the way.
(Incidentally, Fulham were helped by a megabucks foreign takeover – not theirs, but Birmingham’s. At this point Birmingham were fourth in the table, before Trillion Trophy Asia stepped in with their millions, replaced Gary Rowett with a more glamorous manager, and set in train the club’s plummet to near-relegation.)
So what defines the clubs who emerge from the pack and charge to the playoffs? Enough quality, for a start, but generally assisted by key players returning from injury.
Whatever your view of Daniel Farke, we can surely agree that he’s had a rough time with injuries. The most valuable player he inherited, around whom he made clear that he was building his team’s creativity, was crocked in pre-season and has only just made his first start. Timm Klose’s return after Millwall reminded us of how important he was before becoming another Cambridge victim.
City’s good run coincided with the pairing of Trybull and Tettey, both of whom subsequently got injured. And Oliveira was on fire at the start of the season, before being struck down by a mystery injury/illness from which he showed the first real sign of recovering on Saturday.
Suddenly it seems those injuries may be behind us. More may occur, of course. But imagine for a moment that we consistently have Klose and Hanley in the centre of defence, Maddison and Pritchard doing their stuff in midfield and a fully-firing Nelson Oliveira up front – doesn’t that sound potentially a bit special?
If Watkins, Wildschut or Josh Murphy could command a regular starting spot to support that group, we’d be a force to be reckoned with.
This is all a bit fanciful, of course. It puts a lot of weight on 45 minutes from Saturday, and assumes an upturn in luck (and that we won’t sell key assets in January). It probably doesn’t pay enough heed to the form that preceded Saturday, or to our league position. We’re a long way off the pace.
But equally strange things have happened. If anyone from the pack is going to have a run in the second half of the season, we have the ingredients for it to be us (including, given encouragement, the Carrow Road crowd).
And heck – where would we be without dreams? It’s that time of the year…