In February 2008, City travelled to West Brom. Win that, we counselled ourselves, and this play-off push might actually be a real thing. It isn’t easy to perfectly recollect one’s decade-old thoughts, but that seems close enough to the 2008 reality.
In February 2019, City travel to Derby. Win that, we tell ourselves…and then find ourselves inescapably drawn back to THAT season, the one that changed everything forever.
The comparison isn’t drawn solely as a cheap way of recollecting the very best of days. There’s something tangible in it. Because like 2008, City have come from almost nowhere to be in the frame for the top six. To do that, we’ve already had probably the result of the season, a 2-0 win at then-leaders Leeds. But that win, just six short weeks ago, was about pulling clear of relegation. Now, wins count (we think) towards loftier goals. So as the motive for winning changes, so too does our pre-match thinking. Beat Derby…
Oh, but it’ll be tough. This has never felt a happy hunting ground, as recent 4-0 and 5-0 defeats testify. Then again, City famously hammered the Rams when it mattered most, a 3-0 win eventually sending the Tigers to Wembley in 2016.
City will have to do it without both Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs, who are still injured; and you fancy that Derby will do a better job of exploiting City’s extremely makeshift back four than a leaden-footed Stoke did last week. A clean sheet here would surely be our best laundered of this season. If Nigel Adkins does decide that defensive reinforcement is needed, Liam Ridgewell could be in line for a City debut.
Ashley Cole could make his Derby debut, lining up alongside ex-City loanee Fikayo Tomori. Also formerly of this parish is Harry Wilson, whose superb loan spell last season was one of the reasons City are still in the Championship. Another ex-Tiger, Tom Huddlestone, doesn’t look an obvious starter.
Derby need the win: they’re 7th, albeit with a game in hand, and a play-off place was presumably the minimum requirement for Frank Lampard this season. They can’t drop lower than that this weekend, but with ten points separating them from second it’s likely that their only route to the top flight is via the play-offs and they daren’t fall behind that race as well. City could end the week anywhere between 8th and 13th depending on other results, a wide spread of positions for a season now two-thirds through. Even a draw could knock the Tigers back into the bottom half; but it wouldn’t be a bad point if we get it.
It’s a mark of City’s huge recent improvement that Derby aren’t odds-on for this game. You’d have struggled to get much better than 1/2 a few months ago, but the Rams are now generally 11/10 for a win. The draw is 13/5, but if you fancy City’s surge to continue then 13/5 is all yours. Not that we advocate gambling or anything.