How do you preview a game when the requirements are unknown – indeed, when we don’t even know if we’ll require anything at all?
You don’t. Not really. This pre-empts tonight’s game between Leicester and Watford, and you already know the permutations. A home win: City are promoted. A draw: City need a point tomorrow. An away win: oh shit.
When you consider that the Tiger Nation isn’t even able to agree upon what it wants tonight, the situation becomes more complicated. Some, rather greedily, want tomorrow’s game at Oakwell to matter – a rather cocksure approach, but you can see their point. It’d be amazing to get a win we need; less so to win when events elsewhere have already guaranteed the “P”. Others, stressed beyond endurance, just want it over, and for tomorrow to be a party, not an ordeal. No comment from us.
Comments aplenty from Steve Bruce though. His side were awfully uptight against Bristol City last week, a fact recognised and hopefully remedied during a week of apparent relaxation. He thinks we’ll need something tomorrow. He may be right, and it’s therefore correct that the preparations should be for that eventuality.
He’ll be shuffling his pack a little, too. Jack Hobbs has an injury to the same knee he badly damaged a year ago, meaning the somehow-fit-again Paul McShane will play. Gedo is out with a nagging foot injury, while Robert Koren is not likely to start. That’ll mean a recall for Corry Evans, and a likely start for Jay Simpson with George Boyd up front. Barnsley have better news on the availability front. Ballslinger Rory Delap, Robert Edwards and Kelvin Etuhu should all be fit, though Stephen Dawson is still banned.
This fixture is perfectly level throughout history, with 39 wins each and 22 draws from the 100 meetings since 1905. We’ve played twice this season, both at the Circle, and with each team recording a 1-0 win. Since 1990 there’s only been one draw, and there’ve been some real highs and lows in meetings at this ground – the 2-1 Championship win in 2004 when Michael Keane scored a late winner, the 3-1 win en route to promotion in 2008 – but also the hideous 0-3 loss in the relegation battle of 2006/7. City lost a shade unluckily at Oakwell last season, 2-1.
It’s worth remembering that this result matters not only to us. An epic burst of form at the start of 2013 gave Barnsley a real chance of avoiding the drop, but the extraordinary tightness of the division’s lower reaches mean that they remain in desperate trouble, presently 23rd. Defeat tomorrow could effectively relegate them if results elsewhere are unfavourable; it’d certainly put the matter out of their hands.
So, while a trip to a side in the bottom three may superficially appeal, Oakwell’s anxiety won’t be restricted to the away end. That scintillating spurt aside, it’s been an unhappy season for Barnsley. Nine defeats on their own turf is a damaging statistic, with their 24 goals at home the joint lowest tally in the division – they’ve actually been more prolific on their travels. Contrast that with City, who’ve got the joint best points tally away from home, and there’s reason to suppose that even a Watford win tonight may not keep the battle alive until the final day.
“Ah, but TypicalCity”, comes the instant refrain. Well, yes. Like most football fans, we’re programmed to anticipate the worst. This isn’t really a Typical City side – check the league table if you doubt that. Nonetheless, the prospect of City needing to beat Cardiff on the final day while Leeds chortlingly lay down at Watford is too ghastly for words. If we don’t do it this weekend (or have it done for us), well, Typical City indeed.
As we saw earlier in the week, the bookies fancy City, strongly. The Tigers’ price for victory tomorrow has been cut to just 7/5, with Barnsley now out to 2/1. A draw is 12/5. Might that be the value if Watford also draw tonight? Your choice. And promotion itself? No more than 1/12 is on offer. Some even go 1/33. By the time a 5,500-strong deputation heads to South Yorkshire, it may already be over. Hopefully, the race won’t last beyond 5pm tomorrow.
One more time: c’mon City.