Preview: West Brom
Never before have I experienced so many NCFC related mood-swings in such a short space of time as I have over the last few days.
Here's a breif list of them:
- Dread about the Villa game.
- Matchday arrives, sun shining, getting excited.
- ...Well THANKS Agbonlahor.
- Can't believe we're in such a mess. What's going on Hughton?
- Stoke go 1-0 up and Craig Gardner gets sent off. Stoke are doing us a favour. Brilliant!
- Stoke blow their lead and 10-man Sunderland snatch a point, going above us in the table. Despair!
- Wigan go 1-0 up against Swansea. We drop to 17th. I feel sick.
- Swansea equalise! Hope.
- Wigan retake the lead faster than the speed of light. Misery.
- Swansea equalise again! More hope.
- SWANSEA!! I've always like the Welsh. Relief.
And that Swans victory (thanks, Jacks) might just be enough to make it a bridge too far for Wigan to recover from, at least at our own personal expense. What it definitely does is give us the perfect chance to respond to that result and propel ourselves into the absolute best position possible. It's still perfectly plausible, and even likely, that Wigan have it in them to get a result at Arsenal. After all, they're no strangers to toppling the big sides, I.e Man United last season. But with their defence completely capitulating, and Arsenal hitting form at just the right time and still trying to hold on to the Champions League spots, I can't see them getting anything more than a point.
The two North-East clubs also breathed a sigh of relief, but Newcastle and Sunderland will know that they need to get something this weekend to keep themselves from getting drawn into it on the final day should Wigan pull off another dramatic fight back.
Should it have come to this? Definitely not. The 10-game unbeaten stretch in the autumn should've provided the platform upon which to give us a solid mid-table presence and steer well clear of where we've been of late. 2 wins in 19 just isn't good enough, but what else can you expect with a sheer lack of goal scoring quality within the side?
What has to be said is that although the defeat last weekend was difficult to stomach, the actual performance examined on its own was actually not bad at all. The passing play and attacking style were good to see, as was getting Holty back on the score sheet again. Howson had a cracking game, as did Snodgrass.
I won't dwell on the negatives, for they've already been discussed to death this week. Instead, I'll focus on the positives and keep the faith. I'm sure we'll all go through some tense emotions as Sunday afternoon progresses, but if we can keep the ball on the ground and keep pressing forward, we're in with a chance of taking the points we need.
WBA have had an excellent season. Steve Clarke has completely surpassed all expectations since taking over from England bound Roy Hodgson. The club were tipped for a relegation battle and Clarke was given about two months at most before he'd be given the chop. Not only have they completely steered clear of the survival dogfight, they've been trying to get into Europe. For someone with no experience as a no #1, Clarke deserves all the praise he gets. We knew he'd worked with top coaches and at some big clubs, but becoming a no #1 and taking over a Premier League club is a huge, huge task. A task he's passed with flying colours. Now his biggest challenge will be sustaining that and trying to keep them from doing a Newcastle and slipping back down towards the basement and undoing all the previous hard work.
Last Time we met
Since we regained Premier League status, we've contested four different matches with WBA. The first of those was only our second home game of the 2011/12 season, where a Peter Odemwingie goal ensured they took home the spoils. Young Declan Rudd, stepping in for the suspended John Ruddy, did save a penalty from Odemwingie in the second half, but ultimately they held on for a 1-0 win. Aside from a cheeky elbow to James Vaughan late on, drawing blood from him in the process, little else of note took place.
In the same season, we'd wind up playing twice at The Hawthorns, winning both games by the same 2-1 scoreline. The first, in the league, saw Steve Morison net a 79th minute winner, while it was Simeon Jackson who ensured we'd progress into Round 5 of the FA Cup just two weeks later with a late goal of his own.
Unfortunately, our visit there in December of this season not only didn't prove as fruitful, but we've only won three matches in all competitions ever since. Hopefully this weekend we can reverse the curse that that result seemed to cast on us.
What's in store this time?
Nothing less than a win will satisfy the majority of the City fanbase. Defeat, and even if other results are kind to us, Hughton will find it hard to recover from any such backlash that comes with it. Hopefully we can at least finish off the home campaign on a positive note and not have to worry about digging out the calculators on the final day of the season.