If anyone genuinely thought that Alex Neil’s abrupt departure would start to heal the wounds of the last eighteen months then yesterday’s game against Blackburn put paid to that misconception in a hurry.
I saw more angry confrontations between fans yesterday than I have since the dark days of Colchester, 2009.
The day started with an apparent indifference to events on the field. Those off the pitch appeared far more interested in discussing yesterday’s sudden toppling of the man whom for so long had been the lightning rod for our major frustrations than anything happening in front of them.
The speed of the unexpected announcement so close to the game added to the need to communally digest and discuss. It was an atmosphere more akin to a friendly than to a Championship match that for, at least one of the participants, held at stake three priceless points.
The players, for their part, having been set-up by Neil, played in a typical Neil home fashion against a team that had no answer defensively for the attacking firepower of Cameron Jerome, Wes Hoolahan, Alex Pritchard et al, and when Cameron stabbed home from a yard out it was of no surprise to the majority who had by then finished their mothers meetings and returned to the actual football.
But then, one rash tackle and red card later, the atmosphere changed again. Alan Irvine made the understandable switch to bring Steven Whittaker on at left-back with Pritchard the unlucky recipient of the big hook. 50 per cent of the crowd appeared to acknowledge the change with a “it had to be done, it was him or Wes” shrug, whilst the other 50 per cent took it as a personal slight against Pritchard and booed like Irvine was playing Captain Hook in pantomime at the Theatre Royal.
Recriminations abounded in my little patch of the Barclay with those booing being challenged.
“What would you have done then?”
“Gone three at the back”.
Okay, I don’t have a FIFA Pro Licence and nobody remembers my tenure as England manager because there hasn’t been one but given that this “three at the back” would have featured Ivo Pinto as a CB – the same Ivo Pinto who was barely able to run for most of the first half following an early knock – I have to question the effectiveness.
And it would have left us with nobody defending on the flanks, all so that we could continue to enjoy was the luxury of having two of the smallest men in the league playing short passes at the other end of the pitch. I’m with Alan Irvine on this one.
City duly made it to the 73rd minute with few problems before a typically statuesque bit of communal defending saw us concede twice in five minutes. The result was carnage.
“Sack the Board”
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt”
Again though, there was dissent on the other side. Some of the more logically minded pointed out that sacking the board is not actually possible, and following Friday’s decisive, if belated, action they had at least taken a step in the right direction.
Equally you could see the point that was being made, however simplistically, that the board was to blame for this. More than Alex Neil. More than the defence. More than even Mitchell Dijks.
The crowd had pent up anger and it needed to vent. Unfortunately not the entire crowd agreed this was justly apportioned.
Ten men running themselves ragged were being pummelled for doing what we all knew they would do. We know this group of defenders can’t defend. It’s blatantly obvious. We know it, they know it, Alex Neil knew it.
The defence was obviously going to be the epicentre of his summer’s clear-out plans and please let it be the same for the new incumbent.
Parts of the crowd turning on them again seemed akin to a teacher calling the kids in the bottom maths group stupid when giving them an arithmetic problem we knew they could never solve. You might feel better for releasing frustration but you’re not really helping them.
These are never going to be straight A students no matter how much you shout at them. And there had been no lack of effort by the ten men.
Fans began turning on each other, calling each other “pathetic”; actually baring teeth. It all got a little bit silly.
Thankfully, Jerome, the Duracell bunny of recent weeks (partly because he’s a good egg and partly because he has to as we have no other viable options) drew us level. And the comeback dispelled the argument that the players weren’t trying rather neatly.
And thus it petered out to a 2-2 draw that for me, in the context of 70 minutes with ten men, was acceptable. But not for all.
Arguments carried on as the fans trundled out of Carrow Road.
It’s not just glass half-full and glass half-empty. It’s not pro-Board or anti-Board, pro-players or anti-players. It’s everything. Whatever problem is being discussed, be it CEO position, recruitment, potential new manager, squad changes in the summer, nobody seems to agree on anything.
I have no idea what the Board is planning to unveil as its new operating model in the next week, but I know for certain that it won’t meet with everyone’s approval.
The challenge for us as fans would seem to be giving it a chance before we decry it.
Whatever your opinions of the Board’s abilities or their technical nous, they do care about this club, and they will have been painstakingly looking at ways to make this club run correctly again.
They’re essentially just fans, trying to do what they think is best. They may not get it right but our best chance as a club is to back them and try and work with them at this point. The alternative is to bitch and moan the second we don’t like everything we hear, and for this car crash to continue.
Next week can be the start of the upturn, but only if we all buy into it. It’s up to the board to create that possibility by making some robust and realistic changes that we can genuinely back.
But it’s also up to us as fans to accept that new start. We as a club need to heal before the new manager gets here so we can unite behind them. Yesterday suggests that may not be easily achieved.