I’m not sure football gets much more painful than that. Or brutal.
Not just the being completely outplayed by a better side, but a better side whose fans are ‘chirpy’ at the best of times and who now finally have something to be really chirpy about.
Let’s get Leeds out of the way first, because they were good. They played with energy, loads of confidence and a fluidity that we, right now, can only dream of.
They only made three permanent signings over the summer but, significantly, one of those was a coach whose CV puts every manager in the Championship in the shade. And it shows.
Other than a couple of extended loans from Chelsea and another from Man City, only Barry Douglas from Wolves and Patrick Bamford have been added to last season’s Leeds squad – the same one we beat fairly comfortably on Wes Hoolahan day – so the X-factor has to be Marcello Bielsa.
There were already some good players in that squad. Not on a Wolves scale, but still some good players and now they’ve been ignited by an authoritative voice who has a set out a structure – one that still allows the players to play with freedom within it – they are flying.
Pre-match, I was happily telling anyone who’d listen that this Leeds side, despite their good start, was eminently beatable and that a flying start to the season followed by a gradual implosion is how it tends to work, but for the trillionth time I was wrong. This time it looks for all the world as if they have got what it takes for a sustained challenge.
And, as much as it pains me to say it, the backing they receive from their travelling hoards all feeds into the momentum they are building (even if it does feel like it’s all about them rather than their team).
Quite where this all leaves City is a whole different story. One that feels a bit like the antithesis of all of the above.
Clearly, the vultures are circling for Daniel Farke and the sound of knives sharpening as I departed the River End yesterday was audible but, unfortunately, he did himself few favours by trying to convince Chris Goreham and the Radio Norfolk listeners that despite losing it was good that City were able to play on the ‘same level’ as Leeds.
We didn’t. And we’re not.
Other than a very bright opening 20 minutes and a rally just before half-time, where we briefly threatened to pull a goal back, this one smacked of last season’s 2-0 home defeat by Wolves in which we were taught a proper footballing lesson. Go back one more season, and Huddersfield did something similar.
And while I’m no lover of the ‘we’re Norwich City, no-one should come here and do this to us’ mantra, I’m still not ready to concede that at least one team per season is going to pitch up at Carrow Road, give us a proper spanking and remind us just how far we are off being a good side.
I want City to be better than that. I want us to be the side who goes away and sends supporters of our opponents home thinking ‘they taught us a lesson’. Alas, with the best will in the world, we’re a very long way away from that right now.
Where I’m at odds with some of the naysayers is when they play the blame game. I’m not sure if Farke is the answer – I’m not sure anyone is right now although I desperately want him to be – but I do understand that to try and make this team competitive against the background of austerity within which he is working is a massive ask.
To have to make savings of circa £50 million over two seasons while still producing a side capable of challenging for promotion is like asking Lewis Hamilton to swap his F1 Mercedes for a Vauxhall Insignia while announcing you still expect him to get on the podium.
Being forced to sell your best players is a far from ideal at the best of times – albeit is simply part and parcel of the football food chain – but to have only a fraction of the proceeds available to reinvest in the squad is never going to enable you to strengthen it.
Yesterday felt a bit like the culmination of two seasons of dumbing down and downsizing.
Stuart Webber’s response to questions around how we can compete with the rest against a backdrop of unavoidable penny-pinching is always that we need to be innovative and creative. As it transpired, part of this creativity involves getting in players who once showed great promise but whose careers have either plateaued or gone in reverse.
Tom Trybull, Moritz Leitner, Tim Krul and, to a degree, Jordan Rhodes have all arrived as part of the Webber rehabilitation programme and, to be fair, all have shown in spells there is still fire in the belly. They’ve also shown in spells why their careers haven’t ignited in the way many predicted, which I guess is all part of the trade-off.
In the circumstances it’s a worthy route for Webber to take, it’s one that could work, but equally, as he knows himself, it’s one riddled with risk. He’s relying on these wayward souls to deliver.
Of course, this is just one of many issues that have led us to four wins in our last 21 games – a stat I was blissfully unaware of until Darren Huckerby fed it into one of his Canary Call responses – and there remain moments of horror within every performance that feed into the current travails.
The individual errors still occur, costly ones, and while most pointed the finger at Tim Krul for merely palming the ball back into the danger area for Leeds’ first goal, it was a horrible starting position from Ivo Pinto that allowed Ezgjan Alioski a free header in the first place. And Krul allowing Alioski’s strike to go through him for the second needs little explanation.
For good measure, the third was also far too soft, and Trybull, first of all, giving too much space to Hernandez and then standing off him was only ever going to end one way.
Of equal concern was just how little work Peacock-Farrell had to do in the Leeds goal, even in City’s good spells, and let’s not even try and compare the effectiveness of Leeds’ high press compared to the Canaries’ half-hearted attempt to do something similar.
So, after a good win against Preston, which we all hoped would kick-start the season, yesterday was a step in the wrong direction. I really want to say let’s just write it off as a bad job and move on but there were too many alarm bells ringing yesterday to blindly do that.
Football by numbers isn’t working right now, although I’m not sure there is either the will or the personnel to change it. And, clearly, the passing game is here to stay – and I’m cool with that – but as Leeds showed yesterday, it is still possible to play with fluidity and freedom within a solid shape.
Team Farke is not about to change the philosophy but something needs to change within it. Something is missing, and I’m not just talking about James Maddison. I still believe, when the dust from yesterday settles, this group, despite their limitations, are capable of more than they’re currently delivering. But I’m just not convinced they believe it themselves.
It’s a big ol’ week that awaits, that’s for sure.