Robin Sainty: It's been one heck of a journey

Teemu Pukki denied by VAR for Norwich City against Tottenham

Teemu Pukki 'scores' at against Tottenham in December 2019, but his effort is ruled out by VAR - which we can expect to see again next season if all goes to plan Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” 

Robert Louis Stevenson wasn’t thinking of football when he wrote that line, but it does nicely sum up the mixed feelings being experienced by some City fans currently. 

Leaving aside the obvious downside of the exclusion of fans from grounds, this has been a season to cherish in terms of the quality of football that City have produced, but with promotion all but secured we now face the prospect of a return to the bloated money pit of the Premier League and all that it entails. 

Already City are starting to receive the attentions of the class of pundit and sportswriter to whom anything beyond the top 20 clubs is something to be either patronised or dismissed out of hand (but certainly never researched), and then of course there is VAR, which appears to have generated controversy on an almost daily basis this season. 

However, for the moment we can still enjoy the Championship and games that don’t have to be suspended for several minutes while officials in a distant building pretend that the technology is advanced enough to make decisions based on millimetres with total accuracy, and referees, however inept, don’t labour under the illusion that they, rather than the players, are what people have come to see. I’ll miss it. 

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki denied by VAR against Tottenham

VAR - you'd better get used to it...Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Like many others I find myself strangely conflicted at the moment. Obviously, I want to see my club competing with the best, but there is a big part of me that sees the Championship as “real” football, while the Premier League is a closed shop where half a dozen teams have a realistic shot at the title and the objective for most of the rest is to get enough points to stay on the gravy train for another season.  

There is, however, no doubt in my mind that City will be much better equipped to stay there this time around, and last Saturday’s game, much more so than the previous goal bonanza, illustrated why. 

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As many people expected, City were unable to get close to replicating the form shown against Huddersfield and spent much of the second half at Pride Park giving the ball away and consequently having to do more defending than they have for a while. 

This was a real test for Andrew Omobamidele up against Colin Kazim-Richards, who is both physically imposing and also a hugely experienced striker, yet the young man came through it well, and apart from being guilty of dithering in possession in the final minute, hardly put a foot wrong, but Grant Hanley was, not for the first time this season, magnificent, both in terms of his leadership and his defensive work. 

If City can keep Hanley and Ben Gibson fit next season, they will have a much more solid base than last time around, and I don’t doubt that they will recruit in that area too. 

Meanwhile, City have also started to appear on the radar of fans of Premier League clubs, often with hilarious results as it seems that a total ignorance of how and why the club is run in the way it is, or any up-to-date knowledge of what has actually been happening on the pitch, is no barrier to holding an expert opinion. 

There have been some real gems on social media recently, not least the suggestion that City are a poor side because they concede too many goals (28 in 41 games with 15 clean sheets clearly being proof of a leaky defence) although my personal favourite is seeing them branded as “a boring yo-yo club” by a fan of Crystal Palace, the footballing equivalent of the colour grey.  

Of course, there will be much more of that to come next season, but for now let’s enjoy what’s left of City’s stay in the Championship because it’s been one heck of a journey. 

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