The coming weekend may be difficult for us. The season climax always brings unexpected results, but in theory our rivals’ games are easier than ours this time, and we may find ourselves deep in the bottom three by Saturday night.
Our performance was variously described by fans on Saturday night as a “no-show”, “capitulation” and “disgrace”. I’ve checked back over the action and match figures, and they back up my recall. It was none of those things.
I thought that seven points from three games might create sufficient composure that we wouldn’t panic at a setback. Apparently not. Saturday night saw gloom-and-doom set in with a vengeance; on social media fans queued up to express their despair.
While Jeff Stelling announced our winner as “the goal that could keep one club up and send another down”, the Sunday Telegraph billed it as a goal that “set Norwich on course for Premier League safety”.
The meaning of Easter has always been clear to me: a biting east wind and two league games. We’ve had the wind, but it’s Leagues 1 and 2 who have the games. Even with an unexpectedly heartening England performance, it just doesn’t feel right.
Our belief, and its translation into vocal backing, can genuinely help the club we love. Though I hated not being able to go to The Hawthorns, it was wonderful compensation to hear On the Ball City loud and clear over the radio.
The table may not look much different after Saturday, but the landscape does. I don’t know whether the players were losing belief after Swansea, but every social medium told us graphically that the fans were. The performance and result on Saturday has turned the mood around.
After Saturday it’s easy to say we lack the fight and determination to claw our way to safety. But that wasn’t the case against Leicester and Chelsea, or indeed West Ham. In three of our last four we’ve shown plenty of heart – that doesn’t look like a lost dressing room to me.
I’d be more pessimistic if City were being regularly outclassed, but that’s not the case. In games I’ve seen, only Tottenham have done that. We’ve made life more difficult for ourselves by missing chances for three points such as at Villa.
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.