Ian Clarke: Promotion race set to go all the way to the very end
PUBLISHED: 07:55 21 February 2019 | UPDATED: 08:39 21 February 2019
I can't remember a season when there have been so many late, late goals.
There’s a reason the term Farke Time has been created, reflecting the ridiculous number of occasions when the Canaries have found the net in the final moments of games.
That incredible comeback against Forest, the amazing win over Millwall, the vital levellers at West Brom and Brentford... I could go on and on.
I’ve been penning this column while keeping more than a close eye on the goings on at Loftus Road as the Baggies played their game in hand against QPR.
It seemed that Darren Moore’s team were set to throw away two vital points after twice taking the lead.
But once more an injury-time strike flew in and Jake Livermore’s intervention prompted pandemonium in the away end.
WBA moved to within three points of City and a point of Leeds and Sheffield United.
Tight, tight, tight among the top four.... squeaky bottoms all round for sure.
I desperately hope that the clever numbers people at FootballWebPages are right with their prediction that Norwich will romp to the Championship title by seven points.
It will mean we can celebrate nice and early.
There would be no need for final-day nerves at Villa Park with the nightmare we’d all have of getting a penalty with the score at 1-1 with four minutes left and a victory required to go up.
The forecast would also mean that the jump to football’s top table will have been guaranteed before the final home game against Blackburn on April 27.
That match could become a party. On a personal level I could relax on my daughter Emily’s wedding day (more of that to come in future columns!)
While I’m sticking with my view that City will be in the top two come May 5, I’m pretty certain the way the promotion race is panning out it’s going to go all the way.
I think we’ll win eight, draw three and lose two from our run-in.
That would mean 90 points on the board, which I’m sure will be enough.
But bet your life that the others in the chasing pack will push us to the finishing line.
Leeds have had more of a wobble than the others recently, losing four of their last eight.
They are also the lowest scorers of the top four and you wonder how the Spygate saga has affected everyone at the club.
They have a crucial period which will test their resolve and go a long way to determining if they stay right in the pack.
Lowly Bolton go to Elland Road on Saturday before Bielsa’s men head to out-of-form QPR on Tuesday for the rescheduled fixture after the cup postponement.
They will expect six points and a return to the summit – anything else will put huge pressure on them ahead of a double header away to West Brom and at home to Bristol City.
The Baggies entertain the Blades in a titanic tussle this weekend – come on the draw!
West Brom then head to Leeds and also have a trip to Bristol not too far away.
As for Sheffield United, they have a Steel City derby very soon plus a visit to Leeds around the corner,
In terms of the Canaries, no one will take anything for granted, but they couldn’t have asked for much kinder fixtures in a promotion battle.
Of course the visit of Lee Johnson’s men – who are top of the European form table – will be a toughie.
Despite bowing out of the FA Cup to Wolves, they looked impressive in that match and a cracking game is in store.
They have conceded only three in the last eight, so Pukki and Co will have to be on it big time.
The next two games are against Millwall and Swansea, who are both still in the FA Cup and hopefully will have half an eye on their quarter-finals. Hull, Rotherham, Boro, QPR, Reading, Wigan, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke and Blackburn then follow.
I’m very happy with the confidence, control and creativity City are showing and believe the momentum can be maintained.
I still keep pinching myself when re-watching those goals at Bolton that they actually were by a Norwich team.
Analysis of the final day is a topic for another week but just to put it out there, we’re at Villa (who are likely to be playing purely for pride), West Brom go to Derby (who may well be fighting to secure a play-off space), Sheffield United are at Stoke (probably in the same boat as Villa) and yes, Leeds are at Portman Road (One Paul Lambert, there’s only one Paul Lambert,,,,) OTBC.
Changing face of kick offs
As I was flicking through the list of City’s remaining games, something struck me.
Of the 13 matches to go, less than half will kick off at 3pm on a Saturday.
And in fact, apart from a Thursday, the Canaries will play on every other day of the week.
A combination of pre-planned midweek fixtures, some TV dates and Easter are contributing to the wide variety of kick-offs.
There are some traditionalists who lament the changing face of start times. While I do like a “normal” match, I’ve resigned myself to accepting it’s very much the way things will be in modern football.
Let’s face it, if we do get promoted, we will have to get used to an even wider array of times. When you look at the Premier League, there are so many games rescheduled to suit the needs of various TV companies.
My one big gripe is when away games in far flung corners of the land are planned in with no thought for fans.
Don’t take passion out of football
If I ever became the boss of Fifa, there’d be one thing I’d do as soon as I donned the crown and sat on the throne.
No, it wouldn’t be ensuring the Canaries got promoted or were guaranteed to win the FA Cup or given a bye to the Champions League final (we need to leave something for Daniel Farke to achieve!).
My immediate priority would be to change the rules which punish players for over-celebrating goals.
I don’t mean the provocative actions of those who charge in front of opposition fans to incite them.
I’m talking about a referee being compelled to flash a yellow card at someone who shows passion and joy after finding the net, often at a crucial stage of the game.
Celtic skipper Scott Brown was the latest to fall victim of over-zealous officialdom when he scored a late, late winner against Kilmarnock and went into celebrate with Hoops’ fans. It was a completely natural reaction. We want passion in football and need to do away with laws which squeeze it out.