My friends up in Durham often ask me what it’s like to be a Norwich fan. My football-adoring, top-four supporting friends, who will never be able to relate to the turbulence, unpredictability and all-too-frequent disillusionment of following a team like City home and away.
My exit from the cross-country train service that took me back up north on Saturday evening was greeted with serenades of ‘bottle jobs’, ‘Leedstanbul’ and ‘that’s why you’re staying down’. I wasn’t laughing.
I’ve always struggled to summarise my experiences of supporting City on the road to them. Defensive vulnerability, laboured and lateral spells in possession and profligacy with the few chances created often constitute the basis of my post-match inquest, but verbal explanation may as well now function as futile.
Indeed, as of Sunday morning, a simple YouTube search of ‘Leeds 3-3 Norwich’ is all a non-City supporter needs to do in order to gain an insight into our team’s serial and seemingly irreparable shortcomings this season.
At 3:45 on Saturday the travelling members of the Yellow Army who’d travelled up the A1 were in dreamland. For 45 glorious first-half minutes, the City away from home we’ve become all too miserably accustomed too had miraculously managed to emulate that scintillating rhythm witnessed 170 miles south-east against the likes of Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Reading.
It really was a treat.
The often divisive Steven Naismith was superb, playing with sustained energy and vivacity with the ball while relentlessly harrying Leeds’ overrun midfielders like a terrier off it. Owing to his occasional lack of innovation going forward, Naismith’s significance when City do not have possession has gone increasingly unnoticed this season.
He deserved his spectacular strike. He must be at Carrow Road next season.
The blossoming Nelson Oliviera continued to impress in his debut season in his namesake’s county, making runs, creating space and finishing twice with unerring confidence. Despite Cameron Jerome’s laudable indefatigability, City look so much more aesthetic with his Portuguese counterpart’s presence up front. Like in 1798 and 1805, Nelson’s role next season will be crucial for success.
But that elation, jubilance and rare sense of joy for City away from home this season was rapidly suppressed. One aerial ball and some defensive dithering later, Leeds’ arrears had been reduced. With it came a simultaneous shift in momentum, atmosphere and the complexion of Garry Monk’s half-time sentiments.
It proved fatal.
This was nothing new from City, nothing unexpected and not something the travelling contingent in the John Charles upper were unfamiliar with. That sense of looming inevitability concerning a late defensive disintegration has become naturalised in our mentalities this season, all too aware of our team’s fundamental inability to maintain a lead nor score goals when confronted with a raucous environment away from home.
The noise reverberating around Elland Road throughout that second half was deafening, willing the likes of Chris Wood, Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe on to tenuously maintain some form of lingering play-off hope. In the face of adversity, City failed to pass their test of resolve.
Such a pulsating affair only served to provide further testimony for the necessity for change. City need leaders, responsibility-takers, players with a point to prove, not this collection of ageing second-tier underachievers. The squad is ubiquitous with players who unequivocally lack the hunger, desire nor motivation to succeed, instead remaining content to dwindle in the Championship until their contract expires.
Stuart Webber knows it. We must trust him to deliver.
This radical period of transition may remain in its early stages, but the signals being emitted from the club are positive. Stewart Lewis’ two interviews with the new men tasked with getting this club back on track proved both refreshing and insightful, surely instilling fans with a common sense of optimism for the summer and next season.
Managing Director Steve Stone conveys a principled, dignified and dependable persona, while Webber undoubtedly possesses the requisite ruthlessness, shrewdness and long-termism to turn this club around.
So the future looks bright. While this new structure’s formative stages have appeared modernising and progressive, the appointment of an adept Head Coach with the potential to work with and unite a probable set of drastically different players is crucial. With the club’s new admirable stance on communication and dissemination, a rational justification for Alan Irvine’s successor is anticipated.
Now we wait.
What City have so conspicuously lacked this season is second-tier scrappers; young and hungry players with something to prove and who are desperate to succeed. Although the effervescent Alex Pritchard has embodied the type of figure who the new man in charge must build around, a significant proportion of his teammates have come up short.
City’s failure has been less the product of individual ability as it has been psychological limitations. The older members of the squad palpably lack the hunger to succeed. This combined with a relentless mental fragility away from Carrow Road has made for an unpleasant fusion. Change is required.
In many respects we are lucky. Despite this term’s travails, the new structure and the men in positions of power appear bold, passionate and savvy. The evidence for a summer of transition has become overwhelming.
The foundations are there, and collectively we must trust the rejuvenated hierarchy to deliver, the first salvo of which was fired yesterday when seven players, including John Ruddy, Steven Whittaker and Ryan Bennett, were told their futures lie away from the Fine City.
The building begins now.