Well, where do you start with this one?
Norwich host Sunderland on Saturday lunchtime in what is widely being tipped by the national media as a ‘relegation decider.’
The two sides have met in big games before, the 1985 Milk Cup Final (1-0 to Norwich) and the 1992 FA Cup Semi Final (1-0 to Sunderland) but surely this has to be the biggest game played between the two sides in my lifetime.
If City win, they will open up a 7 point gap on Sunderland, who will then have five games to play to the Canaries’ four. If Sunderland win, the gap will only be 1 point and matters of survival will no longer be in our hands.
A draw keeps the four point gap over Sunderland and it’s still game on for both sides.
It doesn’t get any bigger.
Alex Neil is waiting to see whether Timm Klose is available, a decision that will be made after a late fitness test on Saturday morning. Other than that, only Alex Tettey is out.
Sam Allardyce has a fully fit squad after Duncan Whatmore returned to training this week.
Alex Neil: ‘This is what we play football for, to be involved in big games.
‘Both teams don’t want to give anything away, but both teams will recognise the fact that they both need to win the game.
‘We’ve been in high pressure situations quite a lot of the time since I’ve been here, and you’ve got to enjoy it and go and show everybody what you can do.’
Sam Allardyce: ‘It would hurt immensely if the club got relegated, for the club’s sake first, not mine. I’ve had a fantastic career.
‘The players, most of them will never get a club better than this, in my opinion, with its facilities and its supporters, playing in the top league in the world, and they really need to realise that.
‘Let’s stay in the Premier League and let’s make the club even better. That’s their big challenge in the next six games.’
THE STATS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Norwich have won their last five league matches at home to Sunderland, and are unbeaten in 10 since a 3-1 top-flight defeat in March 1985.
Sunderland last beat Norwich in a Premier League meeting at the Stadium of Light in February 2012. Their most recent win at Carrow Road was 4-1 in a League Cup second-round tie in 2009.
The Canaries are trying to earn successive home wins for only the second time this season.
They earned eight points from the reverse fixtures against their remaining five opponents (W2, D2, L1). A repeat would give Norwich 39 points for the season.
Alex Neil’s side have conceded a league-high eight penalties this season – try and keep your hands down, Gary. Sunderland are next with seven.
Sunderland have gone six games without a league win, and their only victory in 11 attempts came against Manchester United two months ago (D6, L4).
Sunderland have won just three of their last 27 Premier League away matches (D9, L15).
The Black Cats have kept only four clean sheets this season, the fewest in the division, and managed only one in their last 17 away games. It makes a change to read that someone has a worse defensive record than us.
Sunderland suffered five defeats out of six in the reverse fixtures against their remaining opponents.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Sunderland need to win this game more than Norwich do, it’s as simple as that. It’s not a ‘must win’ for Norwich but it is a ‘must not lose.’
I expect that things will be tight early on with neither side wanting to give too much away. If the game is still level going into the last 30 minutes then I imagine that the visitors will have a go and try to win the game. When that happens, there will be gaps and plenty of space to exploit on the counter for Norwich.
The return of Nathan Redmond is timely and he will be a big asset when the game opens up, late on. The biggest blow for City will be if Timm Klose doesn’t make it. Seb Bassong will no doubt step in but I’d be a lot happier with Timm in the team.
The season has been heading towards these make or break fixtures and having won the first of a three game mini league against Newcastle and then lost the next against Palace, a win at home to Sunderland would be the perfect bounce back.
Personally, I get knots in my stomach when I arrive for these sorts of games and being a Norwich fan, I seem to attend far too many for my liking.
There will be clap banners and free inflatable canaries for the kids as the club try to do all that they can to promote the loud, hostile atmosphere for Sunderland. An atmosphere that might just prey on their frailties. Make sure you’re loud and proud and sing your hearts out.
This is a fantastic opportunity, come on boys let’s take it!
COME ON YOU YELLOWS!!!