ALEX NEIL IS BACK. I REPEAT. ALEX NEIL IS BACK. So are the Little Yellow Birds to preview Norwich City vs Preston North End.
Saturday will be dominated by the return of Alex Neil. The Muscular Bellshill Mekon.
It will be like when you go to a party with your new partner knowing your ex is going to be there with theirs. The relationship ended amicably enough and you have some very fond memories of them despite the rough patch before it ended and the relationship dragging on a few months too long. They also came out of it financially better than you did, but that’s how it goes sometimes.
So whilst holding no ill feelings towards them, you hope your new partner is superior to theirs and that your life is considerably better. You get all dressed up; hop in the cab, arrive at the party and there they are, in front of you again for the first time since you split.
Said scenario will go one of two ways.
1) You are all cool and aloof, yet pleasant and friendly to your ex. Your new partner is more attractive, funnier and has a better personality than theirs, who has a slight limp. Your ex and their new squeeze are left sitting in the corner of the lounge taking to each other. All the while you, social phenomenon that you are, bestride this gathering like a colossus. You fire off effortless, hilarious one-liners and dispense the ‘wink and the gun’ at will to devastating effect. Your new life is indeed better than theirs and you come away knowing that your-ex wishes you were still together as you are fabulous.
2) The nerves get the better of you. You are a gibbering, clumsy wreck, and are unintentionally rude to your ex and their new partner - who is kind, stunning and charming, by the way. To try and block out the embarrassment you get really drunk. You end up cry puking into the toilet while your new partner, who you only now realise has a flatulence problem, rubs your back. Your ex and their new partner gad about the place owning it, enchanting all present. The life and souls of the party they dispense bon mots, raconteuring one off like Ustinov on Cocaine. Gaining the admiration of all in attendance.
Enough analogous nonsense.
We did have our good times, in fact some of the best times we’ve ever had, under Alex Neil. That run we went on after he took over in January 2015, which led to us beating Ipswich in the playoff semi-finals then triumphing at Wembley. The away win at Old Trafford. These should not be forgotten, nor glossed over.
They are some fantastic memories, and we should forever be grateful to him for it. He should be greeted warmly, and roundly applauded by all sides of FCR. The rest of what happened is unimportant and certainly not all of it his fault.
That said, on Saturday I hope it’s AN that ends up kneeling before the toilet retching while being rubbed by a farty person, while we dance off with the whirl of a great party surrounding us and a stunner on our arm.
So anyway, Preston. They came to nFCR and did a job on us last season, and I’d suggest we’re easier to do a job on now. Our squad has changed so much, I don’t think AN will have much of an insight into us as far as the players go. He will however, like every other manager, know that we find it hard to score and are prone to lapses at the back. He’ll also know - from bitter experience - how quickly an expectant and nervous nFCR crowd can turn and hinder, rather than help, the team.
Like us, Preston are mid-table and have a small, injury-hit squad. Unlike us, they broke their long winless run on Tuesday night with an impressive away win at Bristol City.
Preston is a town of firsts. They were the first football club to go unbeaten in a season winning the league and FA Cup in the process in 1889. As a result they became known as the ‘Invincibles’ which was assumed as the Club’s nickname for a while in honour of the achievement. In 1958, the Preston bypass was opened, this was the first bit of road in the UK built to motorway specifications, and to pinpoint this achievement the club adopted the nickname ‘The Motorway Men’ for a short period after this. Probably their greatest first though is the first Kentucky Fried Chicken Outlet outside of North America, which was opened in 1965. This led to the club being nicknamed ‘The Eleven Secret Herbs and Spices’ in honour of the Colonel's recipe. They have since had their nickname sponsored by KFC and it regularly changes to promote any new dishes on offer. They’re currently known as ‘The Boneless Banquets’.
Incidentally, they adopted the suffix ‘North End’ to distinguish themselves from Preston Southend, who subsequently dropped the Preston from their name and became Southend United. RJ
RJ: James Maddison has proved he is the man for the big occasion and may feel he has a point to prove against the man who didn’t pick him. Was he ready at that time? I don’t know, it’s hard to say, but Maddison will feel he was.
Rich Reckons: Party Poppers 1 (Maddison) - Party Poopers 0
CT: Blah blah blah football, blah blah blah moan, blah blah blah poor at home, blah blah blah no atmosphere, blah blah blah not scoring enough goals, blah blah blah injuries, blah blah blah return of Alex Neil, blah blah blah probably lose.
Clare Calculates: I reckon we are going to win 1-0.
ZW: I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted one of our former managers to succeed as much as I want Alex Neil to succeed. He was honest, impactful, and a lovely mixture of terrifying yet endearing. But man alive, I hope he loses on Saturday.
Zoë Assumes: Norwich City 2-1 Preston North End
SW: I feel like if we are going to prove we can turn it around in any game, this is the one. A win against Alex Neil’s Preston would have such symbolic importance as to swing the pendulum of momentum back the other way. He’ll be up for it. The fans will be up for it. Our players will have something to prove.
Seb Foresees: A return to winning ways as Oliveira smashes home the winner. 1-0 Norwich.