We’ve had few problems scoring this season, but a shocking rate of goals at the other end. Quietly, however, it’s been improving. In the last ten league games of 2016 we conceded 18; in the ten of 2017, we’ve conceded just 11.
Maths isn’t the issue. The issue is form. Stepping back from the disappointment of the weekend, that’s surely open to different interpretations. Burton was another unsatisfactory day; more performances like that will clearly prove the pessimists right. And unless we improve our away record, we’ll fall short.
We had an exceptional run from February in 2015. However, we don’t actually need to replicate it. We finished third and but for a couple of late slips, we might well have grabbed one of the automatic spots. We were eight points clear of the team who took the last playoff place (can’t remember who that was).
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Board is well aware of fans’ feelings, and would rather go with them than against them. The situation is that the Board – rightly or wrongly – genuinely believe in their path. On that basis they’re prepared to defy the fans’ wishes…
The Board may feel fate has dealt them a cruel card with that fixture, and the obvious contrast in mood between Lambert’s time at Carrow Road and now. Rather than fate dealing the blow, though, I’m afraid they need to recognise it’s become a self-inflected one.
The Board is not powerless here. It could have ‘bitten the bullet’ and dismissed AN; for various reasons it has not taken that course. Having retained him, it could now act to make the second outcome more likely than the first.
Two diseases in football show very similar symptoms – so similar that it’s easy to get the diagnosis wrong. One is lack of commitment (also known as “not playing for the manager”, “lost the dressing room” etc). The other is lack of confidence.
In the five weeks since the AGM (a very long time in a crisis), we’ve heard nothing from the board. I can imagine and understand their unwillingness to get embroiled in unsatisfactory debate – but silence is even more unsatisfactory. But what won’t do are platitudes.
“You’ve been under intense pressure for the past twelve months. The way you’ve conducted yourself has been, in my view, admirable. But being the proud man you are, you may be the last to recognise that a break would benefit you.”
To my mind nothing before this season raised serious questions over Alex Neil’s ability, or the desirability of our keeping him. I was with the majority of Carrow Road in acclaiming him at the end of the Watford game in May.
Alex Pritchard is a quality playmaker, the rightful heir to Wes. His Ozil-like through ball to Robbie Brady for our third was an absolute joy; nice to think we have on our books the two best Number 10s outside the Premier League.
Closer to home, while David McNally was in post I wrote a number of pieces here in praise, or defence, of him. The great bulk of readers’ comments were negative, often vehement in their attack on me, McNally or both.
I’d still wait through at least the Derby game, to see if the spirited last 20 minutes at QPR can be carried into a full match. Another insipid performance, though, and it would be tough to argue against change.
I missed the Leeds game but have seen the goals we conceded. Even on just those three clips, our players conspicuously failed to challenge and put their bodies on the line as we’d expect. However reasonable or unreasonable other expectations are, that one is non-negotiable.
Delia and Michael gradually handed McNally a deciding say in issues – the replacement of Neil Adams by Alex Neil perhaps the most striking example. They recognise the sentimental element of their attachment to the club, and why it sometimes needs to be overridden by tough judgement.
Fulham and Cardiff illustrated the psychological difficulty of bouncing back after relegation. It explains why three out of four clubs don’t, and it’s graphically described by Adam Drury in his excellent chapter of Tales from the City Volume 2.
Stringer was a right back converted to central defender. He played alongside Duncan Forbes, whose aggression and strength made him the eye-catching one.
At Norwich these days, of course, we do have something special to feel good about: goals and wins. After 12 games the table doesn’t lie – and we sit at the top of it.
We all know of ‘mind games’, especially between managers: their aim is to disturb the focus and equilibrium of the opponent, just as a good striker drags opposition defenders into areas they don’t want to be in.
On opening day he said we’d cause opponents a lot of problems. The constant question from fans during the transfer window – “where will the goals come from?” – has been emphatically answered with 21 in the first 11 games.