I think Alex Neil was right to change our approach after Newcastle; if he hadn’t, we were heading the way of Ian Holloway’s Blackpool. He was even right, in my view, to change for the Stoke game following the home wins against Villa and Southampton, both of whom have very different styles and strengths to Stoke’s.
I’ve been on the receiving end of some sharp comment from him. When I once tweeted that I thought Jerome should be our starting striker, I became one of the people that Laffs sought out to say he disagreed.
I’ve had exchanges with Ed Balls and Stephen Fry (good experiences) and Piers Morgan and Kyle Lafferty (not quite so good). I’ve sent a number of suggestions to David Cameron but I guess he must still be thinking about them.
Telling players they’re an effing disgrace and should never wear the shirt again – especially when the player has been at the heart of our three promotions since 2010 – is beyond the pale.
My strongest feeling is the hope that none of our players gets injured. The importance of staying in the Premier League, especially this year, is such that I can’t pretend to care over-much about the outcome.
Sometimes it’s easier to recognise things in supporters of other clubs than in ourselves. It’s almost comical to see some Arsenal fans, for instance, in their monthly vacillation between wanting Wenger sacked in disgrace and wanting him given the job for life.
Within the pragmatic approach that I believe he’s wedded to, can Alex fix the problem and inspire more Arsenal/Swansea performances while cutting the Watford ones? He’s such a quick learner and resilient character that I believe the answer’s yes.
But what about the squad?
We’ve also of course seen Norwich win a Wembley final. Barbara is to blame that it wasn’t 2015. Frustratingly (in that respect) she was invited to speak at a conference in Australia, which is why we were on the other side of the world that wonderful day when we took Mr Karanka and his team to the cleaners.
In the last relegation season, our fans would lambast the team as negative and not worth watching, then complain bitterly when MotD put us on late and said (in a much milder form) something along the same lines.
Southampton’s chairman recently outlined the club’s philosophy. In essence it’s: “We know what we believe, and apply it to every decision; we don’t look for short cuts, but build and earn success; we don’t panic, we’re consistent”.
I believe we should have been proud of our club’s performance in those two years. What I saw though was a dramatic rise in expectations that still haven’t abated. While we were justifiably disappointed with the relegation season, some of our wider expectations seem, to me, to be less than reasonable.
If Sunday reminded us that our 34-year-old manager is still learning, maybe that’s not a bad thing. I believe Alex Neil has star quality and hope he’s with us for a very long time. But he’s learning his trade at the top level. The good news is that – as our two games against Middlesbrough in the spring showed – he’s a very quick learner.
If we don’t have a top-quality striker, at least we have the next-best thing: genuine competition for the striker’s spot. I remain an admirer of Jerome, but Mbokani, Lafferty and Grabban are real contenders.
The arrival of Jarvis seems to have passed largely unnoticed among City fans. Two reasons are no doubt involved: the deal was announced well after the official close of the window – I refuse to say it ‘slammed shut’ – and he’s not a centre back.
Why did good players choose to stay at City when our wages were severely cut after relegation? For some, such as Bradley Johnson, there was an admirable element of loyalty. But I guarantee they only stayed because we promised major bonuses if we got promoted.
Brady looks well worth the wait, while Dorrans is beginning to seriously challenge Jonny Howson as my favourite player. His ability was never in doubt, but I heard reservations about his workrate and commitment at previous clubs.
We were given a tough opener. Palace’s form in the second half of last season was sensational, especially away from home. Their 10th place finish reflected much better than 10th place form after bringing in Alan Pardew.
I’ve always admired Jerome – and that admiration reached new heights with his Wembley performance. I’m told he’s desperate to shake off the “not quite good enough for the Premier League” tag, and that hunger could make him a good first choice for us.
A newspaper report of our training in Germany and Austria summed up life at City as it now is: “Every base was covered, every member of the team knew their role as Neil observed from close quarters.”
Watching Alex Neil on the touchline, you wouldn’t guess this is pre-season against Hitchin and Cambridge – it might just as well be the Premier League. And forget going off for a shower and a beer when you finish your 45/60 minutes: the players sit and listen to his detailed dissection of their performance.