England was a mere sideshow ahead of Norwich City’s clash with Newcastle United
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
International breaks are annoying at the best of times. However, when one crops up just as your team has got some momentum going, threatens injury to key players and robs us all of any Championship or Premier League action on a long holiday weekend which is traditionally seen as a key point in the season, they are positively infuriating.
At least England produced a heart-warming performance in Germany and, although Roy Hodgson, inset, is never going to be a massive favourite with Norwich fans, with his latest patronising remarks about Grant Holt fanning the flames of resentment yet again, Saturday's youthful line-up did a great job for him.
The fact that this was followed by a ponderous, timid performance against a very ordinary Dutch side means that we will have to wait and see which version of England will show up in the summer. However, such considerations are a mere bagatelle in comparison to this afternoon's huge game.
The ancient Romans had the perfect word for such an occasion; 'discrimen', an instant of excruciating tension when everything hangs in the balance. While today's result may not in itself decide City's ultimate fate this season it will have a huge bearing on it and my nerves have been jangling for days in anticipation.
Quite apart from the implications for the relegation battle there is also the issue of revenge for City's humiliation at St James' Park back in October, a result that many have pinpointed as the game which persuaded Alex Neil to curtail his natural instinct to be aggressive in terms of his tactics and substitutions in favour of a more pragmatic approach with very mixed results.
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A quick look at the form table suggests that there isn't much between the sides. Both have managed only four goals in their last six games, and while Newcastle have conceded 11 to City's four over the same period, five were at Chelsea before the protracted replacement of the hapless Steve McClaren by Rafa Benitez.
Benitez is obviously a big name, but after leading a series of high-profile, successful clubs, he is now in unfamiliar territory in trying to steer a much less talented group to Premier League safety. As with City, the key question for Newcastle is whether the players have underperformed so far or simply lack the requisite quality to survive at the top level.
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The timing of the game may well be good from a Canaries perspective. Not only are they finding some form themselves, but the new manager effect will have dissipated somewhat, and Benitez will not have spent enough time with his players to have moulded his side into exactly what he wants.
However, they will be coming to Norwich fully believing they can win, despite losing their last eight away fixtures. City will have to be on top of their game from the first minute and that's where we as fans need to play our part.
Too often this season Carrow Road has been lacking in atmosphere, but it has to be a seething cauldron of yellow and green. Hopefully we can generate a level of support to stir the hearts of the home team.
At West Brom, 2,500 City fans sang their hearts out. Today there will be nearly 25,000 of us so there is no reason at all why the roof can't be raised. While I've been pretty cynical about artificial aids to making noise in the past I'll welcome anything that increases the volume.
Let's leave all our inhibitions at home and do this together!