This is not a six-pointer. This is not a six-pointer. This is not a six-pointer.
It’s as well that I’ve come to that conclusion, as our editor Gary made clear he’d disapprove any use of the phrase.
There are extreme cases where I might try to persuade him that a match deserved the label, despite its inelegance – but for a number of compelling reasons, this isn’t one.
I’ve had some help in thinking this through. Being a lazy kind of chap, I invited some friends to give me their thoughts about the game. They’ve come up with some much better descriptions:
“It looks like the game of the week – in any division”
“Two teams who enjoy playing great football”
“It’s not a six-pointer with the gap we have”
That last one was a recurring theme (including from Jason Barrett, a long-ago teammate of mine in the Capital Canaries Sunday morning side):
“It’s not so much [a six-pointer] for us as for them”
“It’s almost a free hit for us”
“Thanks to our excellent run of results, this game is nowhere near as huge for us as it could have been”
“It’s the least pressure I’ve ever felt going into a first vs second”
For sure, though, it’s a high-importance game – and should be a good one for the neutral. Certain Championship games wouldn’t be out of place in the Premier League; I’m anticipating this being one of them.
A draw might suit either or both, but neither is set up that way. They’re drilled in positive, creative football geared to winning.
With both teams confident, I reckon it’ll be an impressive advert for Championship quality.
Of course, though, we’re not neutral. Despite the wise words above, I won’t be at all relaxed. At 5.30 I’ll be watching with undiluted passion for a City win and a Brentford loss.
My desire for them to lose may extend for the rest of the season – but only because it’s in Norwich’s interest. In the wider picture, I’m an unashamed admirer of Brentford Football Club and what it’s done.
Regular readers will know I respect some clubs in our division far more than others. Many of the epithets dubiously bestowed on Bournemouth, for instance – shrewd, plucky, admirable – actually apply much more to Brentford.
In Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber’s first two years at Norwich, they had to make bricks from straw: somehow creating a better team while making a massive surplus on transfer dealings. The Murphy twins, Alex Pritchard and (of course) James Maddison had to go.
That’s familiar territory for Brentford. Over the past three years they’ve had to sell, among others, Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Romaine Sawyers – all now making their impact in the top flight.
Worse, they couldn’t keep their star manager Dean Smith out of the clutches of Villa.
Yet, they’ve replaced those exceptional people without missing a beat. Thomas Frank, the manager who replaced Smith, has maintained both the style and effectiveness of his predecessor. We’ll come back to strikers in a minute.
Brentford’s truly an admirable club, which probably deserves to go one better than its loss in last season’s playoff final. As long as it’s not at our expense…
Before we leave managers/head coaches, a word about Daniel Farke. Other than a couple who’ve brought their team up from League One, he’s now the longest-serving head coach in the Championship.
The length of Farke’s stay is down to three factors. Norwich isn’t a hire-and-fire club à la Watford; he’s an outstanding coach; and he’s a good learner. We know the style he’s committed to, but he’s sufficiently pragmatic to make adjustments where they’re needed.
An example is our central defence. Committed as he is to young players, Farke clearly decided that the kind of pairing we had two years ago (Zimmermann and Godfrey, with a combined total of 14 senior appearances before that season) wasn’t the right formula.
So this season we have Hanley and Gibson, with a combined 450 senior appearances behind them. It’s not the only reason – Tim Krul and Oliver Skipp would have a say in that too – but it’s a key factor in our conceding 25 goals in the 33 games so far, compared to 42 at the same stage two years ago.
The media, for certain, won’t be looking at central defence in their previews of the game. It’ll be billed as a shoot-out between two of the league’s top strikers: Teemu Pukki (18 goals in 29 starts this season) against Ivan Toney (25 goals in 32 starts).
They’re both outstanding strikers. I suspect, though, they’d be at pains to say that their team’s attacking culture has been a big help to them. They’ve actually both missed a lot of chances, as well as putting them away.
Our record at home to Brentford is a chequered one. Sandwiching a 5-0 romp for City in December 2016, we lost 2-1 in both 2015 and 2017. Each of those defeats sparked unhappiness among the City faithful – not because the scoreline was unjust, but because Brentford showed themselves to be a superior footballing team at the time.
Two other past fixtures are perhaps more relevant to Wednesday, though one is 17 years ago.
Earlier this season we played at Brentford, of course. Hand on heart, Norwich were fortunate to come away with a point courtesy of Kenny McLean’s late, deflected strike. We need to be – and I believe we are – stronger now than then.
My Twitter correspondent Shaun Lawson has pointed to a perhaps even more relevant game. On 2 March 2004, we entertained West Brom, a first-against-second clash in a very similar context to now.
The 0-0 result worked fine for us (and eventually for West Brom, who came up with us).
But I’m neither hankering for, nor forecasting, a draw this time. Last time out I predicted a 2-1 win over Stoke, and was delighted to be proved wrong with the 4-1 result.
Taking that as an omen, I’m going for 2-1 again.