It's the hope that kills me

PUBLISHED: 13:02 29 March 2006 | UPDATED: 09:19 14 September 2010

And that, in theory, really ought to be that. Because as much as anyone still cares to pore over the remaining fixtures, last night's result from Deepdale surely ends City's last hope of stealing that final play-off spot.

Championship Chat with Rick Waghorn

And that, in theory, really ought to be that.

Because as much as anyone still cares to pore over the remaining fixtures, last night's result from Deepdale surely ends City's last hope of stealing that final play-off spot. Preston's 1-0 win may, finally, have put this season out of its unending misery.

Hand a team an 11-point head start over an 18-point race?

Nah. No way.

Be nice to think that has put the cat right among Wolves' play-off pigeons and that the Canaries might still be able to earn the honours East Anglia-wise, but that really must be it.

Which, for me, is almost a blessing. For this season was fast turning into some ghastly sort of 'death by a thousand cuts' routine - or, more precisely in Norwich's case, death by about half a dozen away performances.

And Burnley on Friday night was right down there with the worst of them. Not for the total, 90-minute wretchedness of the whole experience Crystal Palace-style, but for the first 15 minutes when they were quite the reverse.

When they were back to the second-half at Leeds United.

I can't remember the exact line; I've got a feeling it's from a film.

But, for me, it sums up precisely what this season has all been about. It's the sentiment not the precise quote that matters.

It runs something like: 'The total despair, the sheer frustration, the utter disappointment - over the years I've learned to live with them. It's the hope that kills me...'

And that was what did it at Turf Moor on a dank and drizzly Friday night. The hope.

That there Norwich were for the first 15 minutes battering Burnley; giving people hope; giving people straws to cling to; keeping this ridiculous dream alive.

Saturday hardly helped either.

Because just as you suddenly thought it was safe to start penning the first obituary on a season that never really was, so Preston slip at home, Wolves live right up to last week's expectations and duly fold at home to Sheffield Wednesday while Cardiff fail to fire into life.

Palace crumble at Derby County and even the mighty Watford whose steady-as-she-goes efforts of late had found the smart money banking on them to steal Sheffield United's thunder manage to somehow lose 2-0 at home to Millwall. At least Reading can now put their feet up and reach for the summer holiday brochures safe in the knowledge that they will be off to Stamford Bridge and Ashburton Grove next season.

And fair play to them. That was the way to do it - with a team and a system that virtually picked itself from day one, the Royals have been a model of consistency.

They've barely put a foot wrong; Steve Coppell winds them up and off they go. Week in, week out. The last time he probably had to make a managerial decision of any note was sometime last September.

After that, Reading have virtually managed themselves.

It's the teams that - for the hundred and one reasons that are invariably involved - that require big, team-changing managerial decisions to be made on an almost daily basis where the problems start to unfold.

For example, as far as I'm aware, Coppell hasn't had anyone wandering around the building wishing they weren't there; wishing that they were back in the Premiership where, in fairness, their undoubted talent belonged.

Nor has he had to chop and change systems and styles every week to accommodate the latest injury bulletin from the treatment room. Funnily enough, winning teams tend to be fit teams. Just as City were in 2004. You don't get: 'Oooh, gaffer, my big toe hurts - better leave me out on Saturday...'

Instead you get people who want to play week in, week out because it's easy. In a team in the kind of winning groove that Reading have engineered for themselves, players turn up, play and pick up their win bonus with barely an awkward question asked. It's Easy Street.

It's not Turf Moor on a Friday night. Where yet another round of big decisions have to be made.

And here's the point. The more decisions a manager has to make, the more his chances of getting them wrong increase.

Some work, some don't. That's life; that's football. Managers are, after all, only human.

Apart from the lad at Chelsea, of course. He's 'The Special One'; the one that didn't make the last eight of the Champions League.

And yet what's with Arsene Wenger's decision-making process that he can brush Real Madrid and Juventus aside in Europe and then fall flat on his face against the likes of Bolton and Blackburn?

For all the ire and bile that Neil Warnock evokes, at this level he's a good manager. He fires his players up; they love him. He bolsters his promotion-hunting squad with all manner of thirty-something warhorses in the transfer window - Geoff Horsfield amongst them - and suddenly faced with a whole new set of selection decisions, United barely put a foot right for the better part of two months.

How many mistakes Nigel Worthington has made on the road to eighth place will wait for the bitter summer post-mortems.

Too many, some will argue. But how many decisions has Coppell had to make this year?

Too few.

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