If Norwich’s City’s season is to be prevented from its seemingly perpetual spiral into Championship oblivion, Delia Smith, Michael Wyn-Jones, Jez Moxey and co must be bold.
They must acknowledge and come to terms with the fact that this incompetent City side were so comprehensively outplayed by David Wagner’s Huddersfield team on Friday night, visibly manifesting defensive ineptitude, a lack of creativity and movement and a midfield as overrun as Norwich’s streets for Christmas shopping during the festive period.
But they won’t.
The increasingly lost-looking Alex Neil was assured of his position as Norwich City manager prior to this week’s two pivotal games regardless of his team’s performances, further evidence of the board’s perplexing and unwavering loyalty to a manager who each week appears to be becoming more and more incapable of inspiring this underachieving team.
I may have only just turned 20, but Friday night was as poor a City performance as I have seen for a long time. Our side dithered going forward, appeared static off the ball and all too frequently delineating profligacy in possession.
Our build-up play was too lateral, posing no real threat and failing to penetrate what was an excellent, permanently-pressing Huddersfield team. City – for a full 90 minutes – were fundamentally inferior to their Yorkshire visitors.
Huddersfield looked fitter, hungrier, more organised than this ageing and declining Norwich City side. Their Wagner-inspired press hurried our players, leading to the conspicuous mediocrity of Graham Dorrans and Yousouff Mulumbu at the base of our midfield.
City’s holding players were completely absent in what was a chaotic first half, unforgivingly failing to cope with the away side’s terrific ball-retention and quicker, superior movement.
The problems continued. The uninspiring and unstimulating duo of Robbie Brady and Jacob Murphy were fundamentally oblivious to their important defensive duties, steadfastly refusing to track back and therefore leaving City exposed.
Huddersfield’s first came from Tom Smith being allowed such an alarming amount of room on the right hand side.
This team lacks an identity. Throughout all of our unconvincing 22 games this season, what principles and ideals have characterised City? The only ones that spring to my mind are incompetence, defensive fragility and such a visible lack of creativity and spark.
Our absence of ideas going forward was so striking. Once again, City’s build up play was slow and sideways, resembling something of a turning Indian cricket pitch that our country’s batsmen are struggling on so significantly this winter. But even at 3-0 down in Asia, England’s cricketers have probably performed better than City in recent weeks.
And then there’s Alex Neil. City’s manager has come to constitute an isolated figure in his dugout, vociferously yet futilely commanding orders at his failing team. The Neil of late has demonstrated such considerable conservatism in his approach, lacking pragmatism and flexibility in the way he sets up his team.
Carrow Road’s fervent and audible response to the departure of the tenacious Nelson Oliviera on Friday evening said it all. Having scored three excellent goals in three less than excellent City performances, Neil’s bizarre decision to deploy the returning Cameron Jerome for the Portuguese international when in fact the two needed to play together was as perplexing as it was frustrating. Like at Trafalgar in 1805, Nelson was needed to inspire victory.
Neil’s concerning lack of pragmatism and instead his ardent maintenance of his 4-2-3-1 system remains a fundamental issue for this team. Losing 2-1 at home and in desperate need of a result to at least seek to trigger some sort of form, it doesn’t take a tactical genius to be aware of the vitality of employing two strikers.
Yet Neil’s uncompromising and stubborn mentality prevailed.
City fans could ask for no better Christmas present than Neil out and the young, impressive and hungry Gary Rowett in. Whilst such a notion dominated the post-match phone-in late on Friday night, those endorsing the case of Rowett are right: he is a superb young manager who possesses the ability to rejuvenate this ineffective Norwich side.
It won’t happen though. The fact that the increasingly divisive Jez Moxey has never taken a club out of this league as a Chief Executive is so telling, whilst his unreasoned and directionless words of ‘promotion, promotion, promotion’ at this year’s AGM confused fans.
His and the board’s unremitting persistence with the failing Neil could see City confined to the Championship wilderness.
They must be aware of our frustration. On few occasions has Carrow Road responded so toxically to the sound of a full-time whistle as on Friday, whilst the response to Neil’s overtly conservative change on 65 minutes was justifiably hostile. To slightly distort the lyrics of a chant that echoed round Carrow Road in the second-half, Delia needs to sort it out.
Manager and board aside, City looked unfit, undynamic, uncreative and fundamentally inferior to this developing Huddersfield side. Whilst our squad may not possess the level of talent we once perceived it did, these players are underperforming under the hapless Alex Neil.
Defensive issues remain – City do not possess one dependable centre-half – but the most alarming thing that emerged on Friday was our lack of direction, purpose and creativity going forward. Laterality, slowness and disorganisation in the final third championed over notions of innovation, enterprise and penetration.
So change is vital. Indeed, it is now almost universally desired. Two points from our eight games against top ten teams represents grim reading for City fans, and under Alex Neil, such an unpleasant run of form appears unlikely to be terminated.
So, whilst I write my Christmas list this year, a new item – albeit a hopeful one given the board’s steadfastness – emerges. Forget books, clothes and the rest: all I want for Christmas is a new manager.