Bad, but it could be much worse

STEVE GEDGE Was it really just 39 weeks ago that the following optimistic words were penned?“It is going to be tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.


Was it really just 39 weeks ago that the following optimistic words were penned?

“It is going to be tough, but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. This season will sort out the men from the boys and we have a lot of men in our dressing room.”

Worthington-esque in style, true, but they were actually the thoughts of Ken Bates, writing in the programme for the visit of Norwich back on the opening day of the season on August 5 - a time when he was keen to outline all the great things that the club were spending their money on, including their own radio station. But, as we know in these parts, investing in such off-the-field facilities rather than on-the-pitch personnel can be a risky game to play.

Okay, so maybe our season hasn't been as disastrous as theirs, but it'll still be one to forget. If ever there was one match to sum up the campaign it was the 1-1 draw against Ipswich two weeks ago - how much can you remember about it just a fortnight on?If there's one factor which has determined City's prospects this season it's been injuries. Those years when the Canaries got away with relatively few absences have been paid for over the past nine months, that's for sure.

Losing Robert Earnshaw for a crucial three months of the season, not to mention the freak nature of the injuries to David Marshall and Luke Chadwick, could not have possibly been planned for and City didn't have the resources to overcome them. But, despite all this, you have to say that had Norwich had their first-choice team throughout the season they would have been cast-iron certainties for the top six, but even with the injuries suffered we still should have been a whole lot closer to the play-offs backed by our parachute money than we ultimately were. Six dropped points at Southend, QPR and Wolves through conceding late goals and a further half-dozen at home to Crystal Palace, Hull, Southend (again) and West Brom spring to mind immediately.

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Anyway, time to look back on the season, for what it's worth...

Best of the 43 City games I've seen this season - which, for the record, don't include Southend at home or Birmingham and Plymouth away: 1 West Brom 0 City 1; 2 City 5 Barnsley 1; 3 City 2 Leeds 1.

Worst: 1 City 1 Coventry 2; 2 Stoke 5 City 0; 3 Port Vale 0 City 0 (3-2 on penalties).

Most important goal scored: Simon Lappin's injury-time free-kick at Luton not only sealed a crucial three points for City but also probably turned the Hatters' season totally - they won just one of their remaining 11 games.

Most important goal conceded: Mark Gower's 92nd-minute equaliser for Southend in the 3-3 draw at Roots Hall in September started the slippery slide to the sacking of Nigel Worthington.

Most vital victory: 3-2 at Luton, no question. It might not have been a quality display, and the Canaries twice had to come from behind, but it's now easy to forget that had City lost that night they would have fallen below Luton in the table and been three points off the bottom three.

Most crucial defeat: 3-1 at home to Plymouth in the first fixture following Earnshaw's injury and before the Huckerby and Martin scoring bursts kicked in. Hard to imagine anyone at Carrow Road expecting them to come good, and against an average side such as the Pilgrims you feared for where the goals were going to come from.

Best opposition fans: Blackpool home and away - hope they get the chance of enjoying a trip to Wembley.

Worst travelling supporters: Birmingham, although with St Andrews crowds as low as 15,000 maybe it's not much better at home. A club with too many 'Premiership' rather than 'football' fans.

Best goal scored: Earnshaw's overhead effort at Molineux two days before Christmas merits consideration, but you can't look beyond Huckerby. There were his two super strikes in the Blackpool replay, but his 50-yard run and shot against Birmingham is already an all-time City classic.

Best opposition goal: Freddy Eastwood's early strike at Roots Hall made you believe all the hype.

Quote of the season: “We and the board are deeply disappointed by the lack of passion and commitment in the team's performance. (Our fans) deserve more. We expect this to be rectified at our next home game and at our next away game.” The words of Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones to Nigel Worthington after the appalling defeat at Plymouth.

If there's one memory of this past season it's this one. A decision that should have been made over the summer but instead led to the ludicrous situation of a board who didn't want to sack a manager and pay him off - thus seting him an impoossible two-match deadline to sort things out - and the man himself seemingly determined not to resign and miss out on his £600,000.

(A special mention for the Luton fans at Carrow Road who chanted “We are unbeatable” just before a 2-1 lead turned into a 3-2 defeat.) Things to look forward to: Fewer injuries, resolving the goalkeeping situation and (extremely hopefully, I guess) the return of Dion Dublin to Carrow Road. Otherwise, a first competitive visit to Scunthorpe's new ground, maybe even Yeovil's as well. I'm sure I'm not the only City fan who was really looking forward to the certainty of going to West Ham. However, if we do go to The Valley, I'll be interested to hear whether Charlton's fans are even more muted than they were in the Premiership.

Disappearing from view: Parachute money, and the loss of two, if not three clubs who managed to deal with relegation from the Premiership a whole lot better than we did. Otherwise, two local-ish trips in the form of Southend and Luton, the prospect of games at Charlton and Watford isn't quite a consolation.

Hard to say if and when they'll be back - who knows, by the time City face Luton again on league business maybe it'll be in a new ground, because Kenilworth Road trails only Layer Road as being totally unsuitable for the second tier of English football.