Robin Sainty: Feeling the pressure? What about the others?
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When Stuart Webber talks about Emi Buendia he often refers to his footballing intelligence and, despite the rush of blood that resulted in his red card, the game against QPR showcased two prime examples of that.
The first was for his goal. Even before Ben Godfrey’s raking crossfield pass to Max Aarons left his foot, Buendia had taken off at pace for the QPR penalty area, well ahead of the ball and any visiting player, and then readjusted his position to wrong-foot recovering defenders and get into an onside position as the cross arrived.
The second was for Norwich’s third. Toni Leistner, once linked with City but clearly a rather chunky bullet dodged, played Luke Freeman into trouble in the middle of the pitch and while most players would have simply been content to close Freeman down, Buendia instantly assessed that he would lay the ball back to Joel Lynch and was in between the two even before Leistner’s pass had reached Freeman’s foot.
His speed of thought is quite remarkable and makes him literally irreplaceable, so anyone taking the shirt on Wednesday night was on something of a hiding to nothing. Looking at the selection decisions that Daniel Farke has made this season it was always likely that Todd Cantwell, as the closest thing available to a like-for-like replacement, would get the nod, rather than changing the whole midfield structure to accommodate either Mo Leitner or Mario Vrancic.
Just as was the case with Kenny McLean before him, Cantwell was always going to be an easy target for criticism as a newcomer to a settled side, but in reality he did little wrong against Reading, other than to fail to be Buendia, and like his team-mates he worked his socks off to help to turn what looked like being ‘one of those games’ into a positive result, despite the disappointment of that late equaliser. He has a huge future ahead of him.
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It’s ironic that at 85 minutes most of us would have happily accepted a draw, yet 11 minutes later it almost felt like a defeat, but minimal damage was actually done and to be seven points clear of third place with only five games left is an enviable position to be in.
Clearly it’s important that City bounce back at Wigan, but if we think that we are feeling the pressure as City fans, would anyone want to swap positions with those of Leeds or Sheffield United?
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Any slip on their parts makes City’s job that little bit easier, and while it’s possible that they could each win every one of their remaining games I don’t see that as likely with the pressure to do so increasing by the game.
Equally, I don’t expect perfection from City, but they’ve put themselves into a position where it isn’t essential. Their challengers, on the other hand, know that they can’t afford to make any more slips, and that’s a heavy burden to carry.
I’ve seen no sign of nerves from either City’s players or the head coach, just an unshakeable belief that if they continue to stick to their game plan the results will come. And they have, consistently.
I’m sure that there will be those urging changes for the Wigan game, but I would be surprised if Farke tinkered too much. He will know that some of the established players were below par on Wednesday, but that the likelihood is that they will react positively to that at Wigan.
However, having only gone down to a last-minute goal at Hull on Wednesday no one should underestimate the home team who, like Reading, are fighting for their Championship lives. Logic tells me that City will have too much for them, but logic goes out of the window when you’re a football fan, so when matchday morning arrives I’ll be joining thousands of others in turning into a nervous wreck!