Back in November, in an MFW piece, I wrote the following:
“It feels to me the best scenario for all concerned is that Alex turns this around … So Alex, watch a few of your early games, get back to that style and the results will come. If you can turn this round, then maybe, just maybe we have got the bright young manager we’re told we have”.
And I have to be honest, I’ve been pretty impressed with the way Alex Neil has turned around the fortunes of Norwich City. Going from bottom of the form table to the top is no mean feat.
It’s incredibly difficult to put your finger on why things have turned around and I think it will take a little longer for the die-hard, “Neil Out”, brigade to forgive and even longer to forget and change their opinion.
I understand that, but I feel it’s time to cut Alex some slack and get behind the lads for the rest for the season. If we do that I still think the play-offs are a real possibility and I therefore stick to my pre-season prediction of fifth, something that felt impossible just a few weeks ago.
I’m not sure that even Alex himself could pinpoint the exact difference. But I’m a fair-minded sort and credit where it’s due – he has turned it round, at least for now.
We’re now at that stage where every game is key, where we have to win home games and not lose away games. We can most likely get away with a draw versus the Toon, but the rest of the games this month we should be winning. Including against ‘that lot’ down the road.
I wonder if moving on three players who, for differing reasons, may not have been a great influence on team morale has helped. Martin Olsson and Robbie Brady were playing well within themselves and had wanted out, the former for quite some time.
In reality Sergi Canos suffered due to the form of the Murphy boys and some pointed to the Spaniard scoring nine goals for Brentford, whereas Jacob had seven in half a season. I do also wonder if the Alex Pritchard signing and Brady not moving on also played their part in the Canos debacle, but either way he can’t have been happy.
To move him on was best for everyone, it’s just a shame we couldn’t say the same for a few others.
Personally, I’d have liked to have seen Kyle Lafferty, Ryan Bennett and Seb Bassong all head out with replacements coming in, but perhaps January is not the best time for that. I suspect those players, perhaps alongside Youssouf Mulumbu, Steven Whittaker and Michael Turner, may depart in the summer irrespective of the league we find ourselves in.
As for the new boys – Mitchell Dijks looks the real deal and if anything he looks like an upgrade on Olsson, or at least the Olsson we’ve had since he got stuck in snow heading for West Bromwich. I do feel though that more cover was needed there, even if that was Harry Toffolo.
Yanic Wildschut, despite his unfortunate nickname obtained via Mark Rivers’ slip of the tongue, will come good. I do think he’ll be that typical winger type though; sometimes a world beater, other times quite the opposite.
What is evident is how much more physical both players are than their predecessors – something we’ll need when our opponents, unlike Forest and Derby, shut up shop and make the game a battle.
If the rest of the season goes in line with my pre-season prediction and we achieve fifth, it will beg two questions:
Firstly, why has this season felt so difficult and levels of criticism been so high? Why has this season been compared to the dark days under Chase or Doncaster. It never felt anywhere near that bad to me and it certainly doesn’t feel that way right now.
I always felt we’d struggle to get into the top two, although I was expecting Villa to be up there with Newcastle, but I did expect us to get into the play-offs and felt that this was the minimum we should achieve.
Secondly, have the board in fact got it right? To their credit Alex seems to have got his mojo back, they intervened when the FA Cup pricing went down like a lead balloon and have moved Jez Moxey on despite him actually not having long enough to prove one way or the other whether he could do a good job.
I didn’t warm to Moxey’s personality either but he was getting blamed for things David McNally was responsible for whilst fans were screaming for his return.
We’re a funny bunch sometimes but I do agree Moxey’s face just didn’t fit.
So where do we go from here? Well maybe it’s about time us fans displayed the same kind of resolve we demand from the players.
In summary the only thing that keeps football fans happy is winning, Neil hit the nail on the head in his press conference when he quipped that fans don’t care who is in charge as long as they win.
Well Alex, I’m a convert, thanks for proving me wrong and turning things round – that achievement (to date) shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone.
Now go and prove me right and get in the play-offs.