Away At Reading - A Preview
What a difference a couple of weeks make in the world of football. No sooner did you think that the Canaries were looking dangerously out of their depth this season after a string of thrashings and poor results, when all of sudden we're now on an unbeaten run of four games, with three victories and a draw at Villa Park which really should have come with an extra two points attached to it.
The Arsenal victory at the Carra now looks to be a defining moment in our season. It reinforced the point that actually, there IS potential within our ranks this season, and despite a rocky start in trying to take over the mantle left by Paul Lambert, Chris Hughton hadn't totally forgotten how to manage and coach a team.
Speaking of Lambert, his Villa troops were largely lifeless and were very, very fortunate to walk away with anything from an encounter which, if we're honest, never really lived up to the hype that it generated purely because of Villa's new custodian.
But while Lambert might have left, the determination and refusal to give up and get beat thankfully hadn't gone with him, and neither did our zest for netting a late winner every now and again. Simeon Jackson didn't do his prospects for the season any harm with his goal, but huge kudos must go to Mark Bunn for his penalty save right at the end of the tie. He made a few good saves during the game actually, and as good as Ruddy is, I think he's got to earn himself a start or two in the League sooner or later. I'm not really sure what more the chap has to do, after all he's been incredibly dependable when he's stepped in during the Cup ties, so why not give him a shot?
And to top off a cracking fortnight, we managed to out-Stoke Stoke. Hughton knew they'd bring a physical, unrelenting style and chose to fight fire with fire. The free-kick probably shouldn't have been given in the first place, but we've had our fair share of bad luck with some decisions in previous games so I'll take it, if you don't mind. And Bradley Johnson managed to score! We'll be waiting another year for him to net again, but good on him all the same.
Bring on the Royals.
Last time we met-
The Madjeski played host to a fantastic 3-3 draw almost two years ago to the day when City last made the trek to Reading. Russell Martin got us off to a flying start to make it 1-0, before Holt was practically gifted a second goal after a quite delightful defensive cock-up, though he still had to squeeze it past the despairing 'keeper from an angle that was tighter than a camel's backside in a sandstorm. Ian Harte pulled a goal back, but a Chris Martin free kick restored City's two goal cushion and it looked set to be quite a good afternoon for us down in Berkshire.
Then Ian Harte took a blatant tumble and got Grant Holt sent off.
To Holt's eternal credit, he actually defended Harte in the papers following the game. After all, he himself has taken a tumble or two in his his time. But there's no denying that Holt's omission from the game almost completely changed the course of it. Reading had all the momentum and suddenly we found ourselves without our talisman and on-the-pitch leader, not to mention our biggest goal-scoring threat. Noel Hunt pulled it back to 2-3 before Simon Lappin conceded a penalty, duly converted by Shane Long, who always, ALWAYS seems to find the net against us.
All in all, a point was the least we deserved after the innocuous red card (which was later rescinded by the FA, which just proves how stupid the decision was in the first place. Good one, Michael Oliver.)
Since then, both teams went on to escape the Championship and make their way back into the Premier League promised land.
What's in store this time around?
On paper, you'd think we'd be favourites. We're in rude form by our standards, and Reading still can't seem to register a victory in the Premier League this season. The Royal's defence are still trying to work out what on earth happened in their cup tie with Arsenal in which they spectacularly blew a 4-0 lead to lose 5-7. City seem to have turned the corner now with the team leaking considerably less goals than in previous months as Hughton's vision of a more compact, solid unit seems to be paying off. The renaissance of Michael Turner in particular is something of an unexpected and yet totally pleasant mystery.
Key Opposition Threats-
Noel Hunt just never stops working and running. He busts a gut and tries to cover every blade of grass he can for the team, an admittedly admirable trait. Jason Roberts is always a handful too whether he's scoring goals or not. But otherwise they look relatively weak and unless we play like utter dregs it's tough to see where the Blues' first victory will actually come from.
Away from home against a team in their kind of form, we need to take a minimum of 1 point. If we can keep taking points off of teams in the bottom half of the table on our travels and keep up our recent home form, we'll survive the drop comfortably.
Over to you, lads.