Nick Sellers previews potentially the most important game of our season – perhaps a real litmus test of City’s progress under Hughton so far…
Let’s get straight to it: Last week’s failure to even muster a single, solitary shot on target is something that I sincerely hope Chris Hughton and the coaching staff have been working over-time on, because a stat like that for an out of form side like ourselves spells nothing but trouble.
I’m not sure what’s happened with the strike force this season. I don’t doubt their hard work and desire to do well, but for one reason or another, tactics or otherwise, it just isn’t clicking. Holt is a shadow of the player that lead the line last season. Steve Morison got so bad he was shipped off to our feeder club in West Yorkshire. Simeon Jackson’s days seem numbered too. Becchio has been virtually non-existent, while Kei Kamara’s sparkle already seems to have fizzled out.
It’s something we’ve got to get right. Others have chipped in, but even that’s been sporadic at best. Robert Snodgrass tops the pile with 6 while poor Holty is stuck on five. Anthony Pilkington has four, although the goal against Man United back in October will probably go down as one of the most memorable and significant of the season. Anyway, point being: Goals change games. You can put all the emphasis on the defence you like, but as evidenced by Charlie Adam’s goal for Stoke last weekend, it just doesn’t always work. Actually, the more emphasis we’ve been putting into a defensive game lately, the more we seem to come undone.
Not to beat the same drum as last week, but a slightly more positive footballing philosophy and attitude would give us a better chance of, you know, scoring a goal. Thus the momentum stays with us, and if we can keep that going our backline won’t be constantly looking ahead at an opposition stampede of attacks, which could expose their fragility at any given moment.
And that brings me to Paul Lambert. I like Hughton, don’t get me wrong, but Lambert’s philosophy worked a treat for us (Really?! I hear you gasp with sarcasm). Now, if Hughton had maybe employed just a teeny, tiny bit more of that attacking attitude and combined that with the great work he’s been doing with the defenders, then we wouldn’t be in the position we find ourselves in.
Lambert got a frosty reception on his last return here in the Cup game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; as a Nodge fan, he gave me three of the absolute best years of my supporting life, the likes of which may never be repeated. He deserves all the respect in the world. It’s a shame it ended the way it did, but that shouldn’t turn everything else he did for us into a negative all of a sudden.
But let’s be fair, none of that matters on Saturday. All that ruddy well matters is making sure we take advantage of another home game. And with Villa still in the mix themselves, BOY do we need the points in this one.
Key Oppo Threat
Benteke’s goal-scoring heroics have kept Villa from sinking into the abyss. Anything can happen in the final few games, but I think they’ve just about done enough now. Wigan’s game in hand should ultimately make or break their own hopes of avoiding disaster, but even if Wigan take it to the final game, this man could well be the key to Wigan’s relegation as well as Villa’s own retention of their League status. Aside from his excellent performance against a poor Sunderland outfit, his general menace and proactive attitude often give opposition defenders a huge headache.
Lambert’s philosophy of bringing in unproven young talent has delivered mixed-ish results for Villa. I don’t think we’ll know for certain how this has panned out for him until NEXT season. It’ll be interesting to see what the young players have taken on board from their experiences and how they put them into practice for 2013/14. Will they come out better for the experience, or continue to falter because they’re just not good enough for this level yet, if at all?
Last time we met-
We’ve already met at Carrow Road this term, on a freezing cold December night where they battered us 4-1 despite a promising start. No sooner had Steve Morison put us into the lead before they equalised almost before we’d finished cheering. After that, the floodgates seemed to open and any dreams of a trip to Wembley in the future were swiftly dashed. Thanks, Benteke.
Last time out in the league will be forever notable because it was Paul Lambert’s last game in charge (save for Adam Drury’s testimonial against Celtic), and partly because he went to the team we actually beat. Funny, that. Grant Holt netted his 15th league goal of the season to give us the lead, via a strange leaping motion in which the ball cannoned in off his shoulder. Simeon Jackson scored the second, which I found very fitting considering we wouldn’t even be in the Premier League were it not for his exploits towards the end of the previous season. It was also one of only 3 clean sheets for us in 2011/12, which was a welcome change even at that late stage.
The result secured a lovely 12th place finish, which for a team largely made up of unproven players at that level -a team with a squad of players who were only in League One a couple of years ago- was very, very good indeed.
What’s in store this time?
Both sets of fans will likely need some nerves of steel. I think it might be a little on the cagey side, with both teams looking to try and sneak an opening without going into a gung-ho, all out attack style and putting themselves at risk of a counter. If there wasn’t so much riding on it for both clubs, it could’ve easily been last on Match of the Day.
The key difference between the two teams right now is momentum. I loathe the term “Buzzing” but if you can apply it to anyone at present, it would be Villa. Fresh from their demolition of the Mackems, they’ll be full of confidence and optimism, not to mention having a lethal striker in good form to carry the load for them. We, by contrast, are in something of a nasty funk, with no real idea about where the goals are going to come from.
I said right from the start that home games would be the key for us this season. With two out of three remaining fixtures taking place at the Carra, we need to take advantage now more than ever.
Isn’t it ironic though, that the manager who got us to this level in the first place now has the potential to send us closer to the bottom three and maybe even contribute to the unthinkable?