Seven games left. Two of these take place over the Easter hols but it’s unlikely that both feature in Harry’s mental list of where we’re going to get the five wins from that he says we need to guarantee a CL place.
Monday’s visit to WHL by Norwich will be in there, somewhere near the top probably, Saturday’s visit to Sunderland surely won’t. The Wearsiders extraordinary transformation since O’Neill took charge is a slightly baffling one. Was Bruce that poor an organiser and motivator or were the players selling the manager short? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Typically it didn’t take long for O’Neill to start getting the most from the players that were previously wasting their own and everyone else’s time. He’ll be disappointed that they lost to Everton in the cup having done the hard part by getting a draw at Goodison – given the way they’ve been playing he’d have fancied himself as the new Bob Stokoe up until then. Last week’s efforts at Middle Eastlands prove that he’s not let his players mind wander towards the beach yet, even Bendtner is scoring goals for pity’s sake. So we can expect classic O’Neill; organisation, tempo, ‘all the players will know their jobs’, that sort of stuff.
From Norwich something more prosaic is probably in store. Our visit to Carrow Road in December was our last league away win but we did play very well that evening with Bale particularly outstanding. Survival was the Canaries aim for the season and they achieved that long ago after a series of fine and consistent performances. Regular goals from Holt and Morison have been supported by top displays from Hoolahan amongst others. For the second home match running the opposition will be without a key member of their defence thanks to his association with us, Kyle Naughton will be able to force down an extra hot cross bun or two on Sunday guilt-free knowing that he doesn’t have to pull a shirt on on Monday. Norwich’s recent form has been mix and match but away victories at West Brom and Swansea prove that they’re capable of surprising results on the road. They have only two league clean sheets this season, which, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, isn’t very good.
As for ourselves, assuming there are no unexpected injuries, we’ll probably start with something very close to last Sunday’s line-up at Sunderland with a few changes (Gallas in for King, Lennon in for Sandro?) against Norwich. The excellent win against Swansea has given everyone a badly needed lift. Four points at least from these two games would further boost the confidence before next week’s semi final. Despite its intimidating nature on the surface, a draw at Sunderland is well within our capabilities; though for some reason I think the early kick off is against us, don’t know why. Everyone expects us to win on Monday.
Chris Foy (oh no!) is in charge at the Stadium of Light, Michael Oliver at WHL. COYS.
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