As ridiculous as it seems, there remains a mathematical route by which City can still sneak into the top six.
Even off the back of a terrible run of one win in nine games, it’s still vaguely there for them, and even though they haven’t scored a goal at Carrow Road since 25 February – 61 days ago.
They are, of course, a million miles away from being good enough to grasp that opportunity and appear ill-equipped to take on any team in the division, let alone those in the top six, but the fact remains that wins over West Brom and then Blackpool would take them close.
How crazy is that?
This, by definition, is not a quality Championship. In fact, compared to Championships of the recent past, this is rubbish.
If a side so lacking in the fundamentals required to be a competitive second-tier team, with two games to go, still has a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, then that says everything.
Put simply, there are two playoff places that remain unclaimed because there are only four good teams in the division.
The two best, Burnley and Sheffield United, have already deservedly claimed their Premier League spots (good luck with that, lads) and behind them, Middlesbrough and Luton, in contrasting styles, have sewn up third and fourth.
This essentially leaves two places to be fought over by eight teams, if you include City. And get this… six of those eight teams play each other on the final day – Preston v Sunderland, Millwall v Blackburn, and Swansea v West Brom, and the team currently in fifth, Coventry, have to travel up to Middlesbrough. That just leaves us – at home to relegation-threatened Blackpool.
All of which is not designed to build up any jeopardy – for City’s part that fizzled when they decided not to turn up at the Riverside – but it does shine a very bright light on what could have been achieved with a modicum of organisation, method, desire, and resilience.
That they couldn’t even muster a modicum of any of those things when the opportunities kept on presenting themselves speaks volumes for this jaded, dispirited, disinterested football club.
West Brom though will still believe.
Despite losing 2-0 at Bramall Lane on the Blades’ big night, the Baggies played well for an hour and showed themselves to be well-drilled, spirited, and still up for the fight.
This was how they lined up:
That they made the Blades fight for the win they needed to guarantee promotion says a lot about the turnaround overseen by Carlos Corberán since his arrival at the Hawthorns on 25 October 2022, when he was brought in to replace the sacked Steve Bruce.
He inherited a team that was very Norwich City in its direction and trajectory and which was second from bottom after 16 games. To compare the two managerial records…
Bruce: Won 2, Drawn 8, Lost 6, Points-per-game 0.875.
Corberán: Won 15, Drawn 4, Lost 9, Points-per-game 1.75.
And so, still with the faintest whiff of top six in their nostrils, it will be into a vibrant, optimistic Hawthorns that City step on Saturday. No easy task even on a good day and these are certainly not good days.
There will, of course, still be the usual heroic band of City followers heading to the west Midlands to cheer the team on for one final time this season even though it’s getting the Sky Sports’ treatment (KO 5:30pm), so it would be nice if they were delivered a performance worthy of their own gargantuan efforts.
But we’ve been here before.
In terms of what team David Wagner picks, who knows, and, in many ways, who cares.
Angus Gunn has done little wrong so is almost certain to start, and there appear few alternatives other than to stick with Max Aarons at right-back alongside an unsatisfactory centre-back pairing of Andrew Omobamidele and Jacob Sorensen.
At left-back, Wagner will be sweating over the fitness of Dimi Giannoulis as Sam McCallum’s red card against Swansea rules him out through suspension. If the Greek international doesn’t make it, I guess the gig is Sam Byram’s… if he’s fit.
The midfield looks likely to contain Gabriel Sara and Liam Gibbs as its two defensive pivots, with possibly Marcelino Nunez drifting around there somewhere, and up front the German seems to have plumped for Josh Sargent as his focal point, loosely assisted by Adam Idah and Onel Hernandez.
He may opt for a slightly different shape. I really have no idea. I suspect, either way, it will be unsuccessful.
In some ways, it would be nice if the penultimate leg of Teemu Pukki’s farewell tour would see the Finn start the game. At least that way, the travelling Y’Army would have a bonafide hero to get behind.
But it‘s all a bit meh, isn’t it?
Does anyone out there believe we can win this game?
Let us know your thoughts.