Before this game actually kicks off, we’ll know if promotion has deserted us. City are six behind sixth place and with six to play for, but the target team, Cardiff City, kick off early. If they avoid defeat to Leeds United in their lunchtime knuckledragathon, then we’re all pretty much thinking ahead to August. Maths won’t allow us to think that completely while Blackpool also remain six points ahead, but their goal difference is definitely insurmountable.
But wait! Imagine if you will that Leeds manage to win, and maybe win well, in Wales. Difficult and gruesome though it may be to feel well disposed to football’s most unclean, morally vacant club, but it’s not impossible for a couple of three-nillers – one for Leeds, then one for us – to sow some doubtful seeds in the minds of Cardiff City supporters and players.
All that’s then required is for the Tigers to turn round a meagre three goals on the last day. We’ve done that to Cardiff this season already, by winning on their own turf. And by then, West Ham United will know they’re not going up automatically. So we put three unanswered goals past them at Upton Park while Cardiff lose at Crystal Palace. Amidst all this, Middlesbrough continue to drop points, and…
… okay, enough.
It seems pretty clear to anyone whose optimism threshold is set to ‘standard’ that City’s play-off dream is over. But seventh or eighth would be a pleasing final spot, if tinged with regret when thinking back through some of the performances that didn’t yield what they should. Nick Barmby is starting to be heard regarding his plans for the squad and we hope his paymasters are noting what he says as much as the Tiger Nation is. There is the basis of a gifted, watchable group of players on the payroll right now; just a bit more ruthlessness, guile and actual suitability for Championship football needs adding.
The KC closes for business with the visit of Nottingham Forest, who have had a decent 2012 under the maligned Steve Cotterill and, despite losing at Reading in midweek, secured their safety for another year courtesy of other results. It took 33 years for the two teams to play each other prior to last season, and so far, Forest have not scored a goal. The Tigers won at the City Ground in absolutely identical manner by a solitary second half goal both last season and this, while Forest’s visit to the KC last year ended goalless.
Barmby hasn’t ruled out keeping Tom Cairney in the team, despite the badly bruised foot which saw him stretchered off against Barnsley on Tuesday night, but nonetheless it seems obvious that Paul McKenna will begin against the club that freed him last summer. Beyond that, there seems little reason to change the team, though it isn’t impossible to envisage Josh King starting ahead of Cameron Stewart. For King, Robbie Brady and Vito Mannone, it represents their final games at the Circle before they return to their parent clubs. Unless we make the pla… no.
Forest could recall Irish winger Andy Reid after he missed out at the Madejski Stadium, while former City trainee Paul Anderson will continue in place of Gareth McCleary, who completes a three-match ban.
The 23rd and final game at the Circle in this season’s Championship will, hopefully, produce a 12th victory, which would also be a third in a row. Forest, however, have stacked up eight away wins this season which is some tally for a side that has never been out of the bottom six – indeed, City have won one fewer away game and gained overall just one more point on the road than their opponents this season. There will be even starker statistics that prove the adage that the Championship is actually quite equal, but it’s still an interesting one. The bookies offer 6/5 on City winning and 9/4 on both a Forest success and a draw.
There might be a quick lap of honour after the game, though given that the Player of the Year awards begin only half an hour or so after the final whistle goes, the players may be required to encircle the pitch at a canter rather than with a slow stroll, to give them time to put on suits, boots and Brut. After that’s over, we’ll think about Upton Park and then a long, hot sporting summer ahead. Or maybe the pla… (you’re fired. Ed.)