At stake at Stoke
Date: Thursday 10th May 2012
16 games later we had 13 points at the turn of the year. We faced some tough fixtures and stared down the barrel of the gun. Then we unexpectedly hit our best form of the season; digging deep to thwart both halves of the Mersey and earning a point in a memorable goalless draw with Arsenal. Our renewed hope and fortitude coincided with a shift to 4-5-1. We bolstered our midfield and made ourselves harder to play through. It was at this point, adding to his many strange decisions this year our manager shifted us back to 4-4-2 and a poor performance at home to Wigan punctured our optimism and threw us back into the morass of relegation. We’ve been there since.
There was worse yet to come. At White Hart Lane a brave, young man nearly lost his life on a day no-one at the club will ever forget. The football gods had given us the season from hell and we would have been forgiven for buckling under the strain of relegation and grief.
Rejecting self-pity our Wanderers consulted the survival handbook and set about beating our relegation rivals, defeating Blackburn and nailing Wolves to the foot of the table, but we could only sit helplessly and watch Wigan and QPR tear up the form book and post several wins against strong opposition.
We’ve done the bare minimum to earn a fight at safety. 22 losses, 75 goals conceded, but barring the mother of all choke-jobs at City’s home ground our club’s fate will still be measured by our last throw of the dice against Stoke. Have we gone to the well one too many times? After our risible day out at Wembley we’ve found ourselves inextricably linked with those-on-Trent; Big Sam’s mirror-images of negative, gutsy football and the slingshot throw-in. They bashed us for 5 that day and we returned the favour at the soonest opportunity with a cathartic reversal in score at the Reebok.
I’m no soothsayer in predicting at first glance that this fixture would be pivotal. It just seemed fitting. Our bugbears of the moment hold the key to our survival and victory at the weekend should go some way to removing the stain of shame inflicted on the club on what was to be the turning point of a triumphant run towards Europe.
We’ve hurtled down one dark strand of fate since that day and in order to get back onto the right path we’ll need to give our FA Cup nemesis one more good and proper honking. If we can do that then all we need is several hundred million pounds worth of talent to fulfil their side of the bargain and we can consign this wretched season to history, if not memory.