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Melissa Rudd: Belief creates champions... do City have a date with destiny?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 November 2018

Teemu Pukki - last-gasp hero against Millwall 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Teemu Pukki - last-gasp hero against Millwall Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

When the fixture list is released in June there are certain games you pray don’t fall on important dates.

Teemu Pukki celebrates with Emi Buendia after his first goal against Millwall Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdTeemu Pukki celebrates with Emi Buendia after his first goal against Millwall Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

I’ve never booked a holiday abroad in May for that very reason, but the nightmare scenario for me in this campaign would have been an East Anglian derby falling on the weekend of my wedding in December.

Luckily it didn’t, so the cake has been ordered and the ceremony goes ahead, but there are some fixtures which, on paper, you don’t mind sacrificing to make a social engagement. A couple of months ago when I got invited to Buckinghamshire for a reunion with university friends on the same day as Millwall at home it fell into the latter category. I don’t actually have many friends who actually like football, so telling them, “actually, I’m not available that Saturday, I’ll be at the game” can only be used so many times in a year, particularly if you want them to attend your nuptials.

Thankfully a combination of a well-known scores app and Michael Bailey’s Twitter feed kept me well-informed of events at Carrow Road throughout the afternoon. It was easy enough to follow up until the 79th minute. The emotional white-knuckle ride that followed was hard enough to take through a phone screen, so I can only imagine the agony and ecstasy unfolding in the stands. For all of the excitement away from home that Daniel Farke’s side have delivered, up until Saturday there wasn’t really a standout display or result at Carrow Road under his tenure that sticks in the memory.

Whether you were lucky enough to witness it or had to follow from afar, the significance of such an incredible end to the match wouldn’t have been lost on City supporters. Looking purely at the result against a team near the bottom of the table, conceding three goals was poor, but less of a concern seeing as two of them were down to individual errors. Rather than sloppy defending all over the pitch, they were borne out of uncharacteristic mistakes from Jamal Lewis and Tim Krul – two players who have performed superbly in helping City reach top spot.

Yet another missed penalty is more of a concern. It’s remarkable that City have now missed four in a row and only one of those (that which Jordan Rhodes had saved against West Brom in August) has proved costly in terms of the final result. We surely can’t keep getting away with it and it has to be a curse that’s put to bed.

As much as seeing spot-kicks saved has become a habit, so has winning league games and the nature of Saturday’s victory makes you really wonder if there is something special in the air this season. It was another home fixture against Millwall in 2011 that evoked similar feelings; not on the same scale as Saturday, but Henri Lansbury had inspired a late comeback and scored with the last kick of the game to seal a 2-1 win on a freezing cold February night and put City second in the table.

Norwich deserved some luck for continuing to play the same quick moving fluid football until the final minute rather than reverting to hit and hope tactics, but boy did Teemu Pukki get some for the winning goal as Millwall captain Shaun Hutchinson’s sliding touch on the ball rebounded against his instep and trickled over the line. It had shades of Simeon Jackson’s third goal against Derby seven and a half years ago when the ball bounced off his midriff in the six-yard box to seal the win that all but clinched promotion deep into stoppage time.

Who knows, come May we might only be able to look back on Saturday as a breathtaking afternoon that made us believe, rather than a seismic result in a promotion-winning season. But this amazing run has now conjured up some much-needed Carrow Road magic that should give Farke’s team belief that they are never beaten – and that has proven a key ingredient for so many promotion-winning teams.

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