So… Liverpool (a) it is, for better or worse.
To be honest, to scoff at a trip to Anfield is not a great look, as I was reminded yesterday.
First, there’s the revenue raised by a full house in one of England’s biggest stadiums, which for a perpetually skint club will be a significant coffer boost, and there’s also the Anfield factor itself which, whether I wish to accept it or not, is definitely a thing.
Given the parlous state of our club right now, trips to the so-called elite of the English game are far from guaranteed in the short to medium term, so we are not really in a position to get too sniffy when the opportunity presents itself.
So Anfield it is. Next Sunday (28th). In the full glare of the live ITV cameras. Possibly our first brush with the dulcet tones of Sam Matterface.
But, hopefully, the fear felt by many (most?) City fans will not be shared by David Wagner and his players. Instead, it would be nice to think they will embrace the opportunity in the same way Bristol Rovers fearlessly embraced the opportunity to cause an upset against us.
Credit where it’s due though, because at halftime last night, after City had spent 45 minutes stinking out the Memorial Ground, progress to the fourth round looked a million miles away.
It was clear from his starting XI and bench that the prospect of a reunion with his old mucker Jurgen Klopp had whetted Wagner’s appetite for the fourth round – any notion of blooding one or more of our promising youngsters was quashed in favour of the old guard – but that message had been lost on the players.
In the first half, one team was trying to make it a full-blooded, old-school cup tie, while the other refused to play ball, preferring instead to try and tippy tappy their way to Anfield. Clearly, that was destined never to work and, judging by the second-half improvement, some stern words were dispensed at the interval.
And lo and behold… a proper cup tie ensued.
Having finally embraced the occasion and the task put before them, City looked a lot better and were finally able to gain an element of control in the game and offer a platform for the likes of Rowe and Sara and, later in the game, Sainz.
Three second half goals without reply were a fitting reward for the 800 wonderful, glorious lunatics who chose to spend a bitterly cold Wednesday evening in deepest, darkest Bristol.
Another one for them.
Amid it all were some good performances, not least from Sam McCallum who will soon start to query why he is a perpetual understudy to Dimi Giannoulis, he of the almost weekly scrapes and controversies.
While I don’t doubt that, pound for pound, the Greek international is the classier performer of the two, McCallum has shown himself to be a more-than-adequate replacement and one less prone to dramas that ultimately affect the whole team.
Others will point to the occasional defensive lapse of the former Coventry man but, for me, for all the reasons above, he’s done enough to earn a run of games – a run that I don’t expect him to get.
But it was McCallum’s curling shot, with his wrong foot, that hit the woodwork and led to Sara’s crucial equaliser, and which changed the dynamic of the game. From thereon in, Rovers could no longer sit in and try and frustrate.
The renewed openness of the game suited City and goals two and three were borne of that little bit of extra quality that Wagner had in his armoury, even though it did take a brilliant George Long same at 2-1 to deny Chris Martin the goal that I’d assumed to be inevitable.
In the end, it was, as they say, job done. A professional one at that. Even if the prize is enough to make the sphincter twitch.
So, we plough on. Unbeaten in four games in 2024, which for some has been sufficient to allay their’ Wagner out’ calls, while others are adamant that change is the only way forward.
For me, I’ve had to reluctantly accept that Ben Knapper, for reasons either of his own or based on signals from above, has decided that any major refresh will be done at the end of the season, so we have no option but to go with it.
(I don’t like it either by the way.)
Some are perceiving Knapper’s reluctance to act, regarding both the head coach and January transfers, as a sign that Wagner and the ‘Dad’s Army’ platoon in the squad will be politely and humanely shown the door upon season’s end, but I’m not convinced.
Even with season ticket renewals almost upon us, for me, Delia, Michael, Zoe and their cabal of suits still believe the status quo will eventually deliver if only those pesky supporters would stop moaning.
Time will tell.
In the short-term, unbeaten in four in 2024 has ensured that the protective force field around Wagner remains as powerful as ever, and any calls for his removal will only serve to strengthen the resolve of said cabal.
So, Anfield it is then – which in truth offers a free swing of the glove for Wagner – but first up on Saturday, a bona fide test of our head coach’s tactical acumen.
West Brom’s Carlos Corberán has twice done a number on Wagner since he’s been in the City hot seat, and with the Baggies in fifth and chasing down Farke’s Leeds in fourth, there will be no hiding places.
Tis rarely dull in these parts, even when the football is.
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