They think it's all over..... It is now... (probably)....
First against second. Previous pace setters versus current League leaders. The Big Match. The Clash of the Titans. A real six pointer.
By HAMILTON NEMO
First against second. Previous pace setters versus current League leaders. The Big Match. The Clash of the Titans. A real six pointer. The Battle of the First Division's Giants. The game of the Season. A must win match for both sides. The match of the Moment.
Tickets sold out weeks ago. Home club pleads for spare tickets to be returned for buyback. Some away fans arrive without tickets just to wait outside the ground and soak up the atmosphere in the hope of a ticket turning up from somewhere, like manna from heaven. Queues outside the ticket office at 7 am. Only 36 returned tickets available on the day for home fans.
Lead item on the Football League Show. Centre spread in the “Times”. The defining moment in the will Lambert go to Celtic? saga. High noon for Simon Grayson and Santa Bates, the irascible silver haired one bearing not gifts but P45s. The title decider. TV cameras impatient for action. Winner takes all.
All the clich�s were rolled out last weekend in the build up to our home game with Leeds.
The game itself was no classic. Neither side dominated. The quality of the football was frankly disappointing. Neither keeper was forced into non-stop heroic action. Goalmouth thrills were few and far between. The ball spent too much time at high altitude. Maybe there was just too much at stake for both sides for either to dare to indulge in sweet passing flowing football. Leeds were marginally the better side. They kept a firm grip (literally) on Grant Holt, and their central defenders were not shy to wrap arms, legs, and other parts of their anatomies around him in order to muscle him off the ball. The referee offered little in the way of protection, and Holt was unable to escape their shackles. His frustration boiled over in the second half when he was lucky to receive only a yellow card for a very late tackle. Wes Hoolahan was well marshalled by two defenders and only once able to wriggle free. Stephen Elliott blazed over and the chance was gone.
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The new slimline Andy Hughes played better in a white shirt than he ever did in a yellow and green one. At the other end Rusty ran his heart out and battled for every ball to keep the White hordes at bay, and the Doc and Nelson were simply superb. Leeds kept pumping high balls into the Norwich box. The City centre halves will both have headaches all week long because of the number of times they had to head the ball clear.
The much vaunted but virtually anonymous Jermaine Beckford hardly touched the ball at all. A �1 million striker? �2 million? �5 million? On that showing he is hardly worth double Clubcard points at Tescos. Not even worth buying one to get one free. Nelson and the Doc did to him what Leeds did to Holty. They simply marked him out of the game.
The game was drifting towards a draw. Cue action from Lambert in front of the assembled lights and cameras. He took off Wes, Korey Smith, and Stephen Elliott. In their stead he sent on Anthony McNamee, Stephen Hughes and Chris Martin. In the 88th minute Hughes flew down the right wing as space opened up before him. If the run was good the cross was even better. Chrissy Martin's positioning between the post and the centre halves was exemplary. His diving header was perfectly placed to evade the keeper, the ball was in the back of the net and the terraces erupted.
Mostly. The Leeds fans, who until then had been vociferous, were stunned into disbelieving and despairing silence. The rest of the ground turned up the volume and cheered, sang and chanted even more loudly than they had throughout the rest of the game. The City defenders hugged each other. In the dugout the Norwich subs and management conducted a one minute love in with kisses, hugs, smiles, and high fives. It was a bit like a mini re-run of the Woodstock Festival at Max Yasgur's farm in August 1969. The celebrations continued as the final whistle was blown, and for a long while afterwards, certainly in Norfolk, and also I suspect around the Millwall area in London. Apart from the Leeds fans the only unhappy people in the city were those who had left the ground early and missed the goal and the celebrations. But this really was one occasion when the result was everything, the performance less important.
So is it all over? Lambert, whose shrewd substitutions made it all possible, may be a football genius, but he is also a modest man, and a realist. He would concede only that “we are in the mix”, until it is mathematically impossible for us not to be promoted. Avid readers of the Pink un website will know that, according to Sports Desk Pete's run-in table, City could still finish as low as eighth. If my arithmetic is correct we still need 14 more points to be sure of the title. Of course there are still eight games to go. 24 points are at stake. Football is a funny old game, and anything or everything could change depending on what happens in the games to come, and which of the eight clubs still left in the mix drop points, or win more points, and in either case how many.
Sports Desk Pete only introduced the run-in table after demand from posters on the message board. He says he posted it “against my better judgement as it's tempting fate.” In the stone cold sober light of a weekday morning he is of course absolutely right. BUT you know, and I know, and anyone who saw the glum expressions on the faces of the Leeds supporters when the final whistle was blown last Saturday, knows that barring a catastrophe it will be difficult for them or any of the teams below us to overhaul us now, especially as we have a healthy goal difference. Our chances of promotion and the title are increasing every week and with every game played. The body language of the Leeds fans, their comments on their message boards, and Kandol's attempt to throttle Rusty and or Martin when had been on the pitch for exactly 18 seconds and not yet touched the ball, spoke volumes. Leeds know they have blown their chances of the title (again). Maybe Kandol had been told to take the game by the scruff of the neck...
Like Lambert and Sports Desk Pete, I am naturally cautious and realistic. I do not believe in tempting fate... unnecessarily. But I am also a City fan. Before the Leeds match I bought two badges (one yellow and one green) bearing the legend “Back in the Championship - League One Champions 2009-10”. OK I took a risk. But it was a calculated risk. When we win the title you can praise me for my prescience and foresight. If we do not land the title but are promoted, you can praise me for having hedged my bets and kept both options open. If we are not promoted at all, then the badges will have an enhanced rarity value. So heads I win, tails I win. Rather like Paul Lambert. And did you see the pictures of David Beckham wearing a Norwich scarf after the Man Ure v AC Milan match? Even he was celebrating our promotion...probably!
Normally I drink alcoholic beverages but infrequently. However winning a title is a special occasion, so the next question is which sort of champagne to put on ice? Do I go for the Moet, the Veuve Cliquot, or the Dom Perignon? On reflection I will have all three. Moet when we are sure of promotion, Veuve Cliquot when we win the title. And Dom Perignon when Lambert leads us back to the promised land of the Premiership...