“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.
The now famous (infamous?) dressing-room picture after the game suggested that the players knew they’d done something special, and perhaps taken an important step on the path to success. Early days still, of course, but they proved to us – and to themselves – that they could rise to a real challenge.
I just hope the person leaving in front of me on Saturday and muttering about Jacob Murphy is in a small minority. We’ll need different ways to break down opponents this season, and the Murphys have a special ability to take on defenders.
No-one could say that Alex has had an easy time of it. After sweeping all before him in the Championship, he had a real baptism of fire in the Premier League – a 34 year old, with the most modest squad in the division, taking on the world’s elite.
Our Board, recruitment team and manager have been written-off as not fit for purpose. Some would like to see all three, not just our chairman, waltz off into the sunset.
While it may not take 200 years to judge the current season, it’s certainly still early days. That hasn’t stopped City fans taking to social media to give a range of verdicts. It seems their glasses vary from brimming over to the thinnest of dregs. A bit of perspective may be called for…
Wes is much the same. From the Sheffield Wednesday game, you could produce a two-minute video making Wes look a complete liability. You could also produce one making him look a world-beating playmaker…
Football is littered with examples, from Leeds to Portsmouth to QPR, of clubs over-stretching and setting themselves back years. Because many of our fans seem oblivious to those dangers, some of us are tempted to keep reminding them at the risk of sounding like spoilsports who’ll settle for less than best for City.
Quality matters, but – as Paul Lambert showed in his one Championship season with us – not as much as mentality. A relegated team has got used to losing, whatever its quality, unless it can shake off that mindset, is going to be vulnerable to hungrier and mentally more positive teams.