Paddy Davitt: If City can hold their nerve it could still be a gripping finale
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Daniel Farke could do worse than borrow a few lines from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem to rouse Norwich City at Newcastle United this weekend.
City's wretched record at Craven Cottage predictably leads many to muse on the Fulham hoodoo. But there is little in the way of comfort to be had from one draw on their last nine league and cup visits to St James' Park.
Farke, as he has done whenever the Cottagers' curse was laid at his door, talks about different eras, different teams, different managers. He is right but Norwich must buck a depressing trend on Tyneside to inject some genuine thrust into the argument they can prolong their fight for Premier League survival.
Just the last two trips might be enough to suggest Norwich supporters seek solace in the words of Kipling's 'If' poem. There is a certain resonance in lines such as...'If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.
'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs or if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you.'
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In 2016, Alex Neil's side led 3-2 in stoppage time in what looked and felt to any in attendance that September night like an early season shoot out between two heavyweight Championship contenders. When Dwight Gayle sealed his hat-trick, and the match in the 96th minute, it sparked the sort of bedlam reserved for the Boxing Day sales.
I can still recall from my vantage point in the press seats, situated right behind the dugouts, hordes of home fans spilling down the aisles to beat the roof of the away dugout in manic delight. Neil could only turn and look as behind him yellow shirts collapsed to the turf. It was utter carnage. And it set the tone for what the respective clubs would go on to achieve that campaign. Promotion, and the title for the Magpies, a miserable unravelling of Neil's tenure, that ultimately led to a late-season departure.
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On his, and Norwich's, previous visit a 2-1 lead in a Premier League encounter in October 2015 spiralled into a 6-2 defeat. You might better remember that one for Alex Tettey's hasty second-half substitution, which inadvertently opened the floodgates at the wrong end.
Then, as now, City's resilience is being tested on some of the biggest stages in the country.
Farke cut a sad figure as he trooped off the pitch at Tottenham in the Canaries' last Premier League outing. He was never prouder of his players, despite the 2-1 loss, he said afterwards sat in a sprawling auditorium in the bowels of this epic new stadium. He feted them for leaving their heart on the pitch and admitted they could not have given any more.
But it was not enough. It has not been enough since the opening night loss to Liverpool.
Newcastle, to the casual observer, always feel like a club verging on triumph and much more often disaster since the heady days of Kevin Keegan's first tilt at shaking up the establishment.
Under Steve Bruce they appear to have navigated towards calmer waters, but this being Newcastle there is a fresh soap opera around the corner.
The backdrop to Norwich's latest visit will be talk of a mega-money buyout of Mike Ashley from Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.
City's 3-1 home win, on their Carrow Road Premier League bow in August, was a match rich in promise for the hosts. Farke's side were purposeful and controlled in the manner they routinely swept teams aside on a glorious ascent to the Championship title.
Teemu Pukki's hat-trick earned him another special place in the club's top flight timeline. It was perhaps also the first stirrings of Todd Cantwell's emergence as a genuine frontline option.
But it is Newcastle who have fared much better in the intervening period.
Norwich need more than another encouraging performance at St James' Park on Saturday, they need a win. However it comes and whatever the circumstances. To do that they will have to buck the odds at a place that holds few happy memories in the modern era.