Norwich City face the acid test of Newcastle United at Carrow Road tonight.
The Magpies currently sit top of the Championship table on 65 points, a lead of 15 points over the Canaries. Automatic promotion is of course, long gone from a City point of view but after a five match unbeaten run, the play-offs are very much still a target to aim for.
Four home wins in a row have given Norwich a platform to challenge the top six and this sudden return to winning ways will have the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Saturday`s emphatic 5-1 drubbing of Nottingham Forest should have given the Norwich squad a huge confidence boost to go along with the self-belief that is surely building, although Newcastle are unlikely to head to Norfolk with much trepidation.
They have proven, along with Brighton to be one of the two best teams in the league up to this point and won`t fear us. I hear that their allocation may not have sold out though, due to a long mid-week journey for the fans, just like the reverse fixture last Autumn. If you need reminding, City were winning 3-2 in injury time at St. James` Park before a late collapse saw them lose 4-3 on the night. That defeat, arguably prompted a collapse in form that saw City lose 8 in 10 in the run up to Christmas. A similar heavy defeat (6-2) there last season also caused a seismic change in attitude at Norwich.
Tonight though, we have a chance to put that behind us and again strive for the play-off places.
City boss Alex Neil says that “three to four” of his players are carrying knocks and will be touch and go for this game – he naturally declined to name them at Colney yesterday but I think it`s safe to assume that Ivo Pinto and Mitchell Dijks are a couple of them. Alex Tettey is now free from suspension and available but Graham Dorrans and Louis Thompson are still out long term.
The big news for the visitors is that Dwight Gayle is back in contention, having not played since January 14th due to hamstring trouble. Aleksander Mitrovic may have to drop down to bench after scoring the winner against Wolves on Saturday and our old mate, Daryl Murphy is also an option for Rafa Benitez.
WHAT TO EXPECT
I describe this as “the acid test” because it will be a gauge of how far City have advanced tactically and mentally since Christmas. The same goes for Alex Neil really.
Newcastle will play the ball on the grass and it will be a good game between two competent footballing sides. Neil chose to play both Hoolahan and Pritchard against Forest, who he also described as a “footballing side” after the game. I wonder if he will dare to play them both here (assuming neither of them are carrying a knock) or opt for a more physical option on the left and return Yanic Wildschut to the starting line-up?
I have to say, I`m looking forward to it and Mrs T is a lucky girl to get taken for such a great night out on Valentine`s Day.
Fingers crossed that we make it five home wins in a row.