You know it was a bad night when you have to skirt around the word ‘capitulation’.
Alas, I’ve done that a lot lately (as indeed I have using the word ‘alas’) and that in itself tells a story.
City’s painful demise at Craven Cottage was just another away game to forget and, as ever, the sizeable and vociferous travelling army were the ones to suffer most; their unswerving loyalty and faith again being tested to the limit.
How much longer can they, or should they, be expected to witness displays like last night’s?
That very question will have crossed the mind of David McNally overnight. To take their support for granted would be foolish, as indeed it would be to assume the large majority of season-ticket holders will automatically renew for next season.
While many, like me, will do so without even blinking, there are understandably plenty who question whether another season of the current fare is good value for their hard earned pound. And, in truth, I find it increasingly hard to defend.
I wrote at the weekend of the need for a spark. Something or someone to re-ignite a season that is currently in freefall. After watching the latest chapter of ‘the Craven Cottage massacre’ I underestimated. A single spark, as things stand, looks unlikely to be sufficient.
Among a whole plethora of wrongs that currently befall us, the one that troubles me most is the fragility. The lack of response to a setback… like going a goal behind.
Not for the first time, a bright opening was rendered futile by some awful defending; Darren Bent again the beneficiary. And that was it. Game over. Sixteen minutes.
Despite the best, and unconvincing, efforts of the BT Sport commentary team, how many of us expected City to overturn Fulham’s lead? In reality the Sheffield United ticket office were on safe ground if they started printing tickets for the FA Cup Fourth Round as early as 8:01pm.
And that can’t be right.
Much has been written, tweeted and commented in the last few hours around City’s inability to ‘dig in’ when it matters and it’s impossible to contest. The 3-1 win against West Ham – in which we came back to win from a goal down – now seems an awful long time ago and last night’s XI appeared not have the stomach for a comeback of that ilk.
The players’ heads are down, the fight looks to have gone and, I hate to say it, they appear to be feeling a little sorry for themselves.
So where and why is it going wrong?
Ultimately of course Chris Hughton carries the can. It is his and his team’s job to cajole, motivate, chastise, organise and communicate. If it is not happening on the pitch, which it clearly is not, then one or more of those components are missing.
At the moment we have a management team that prides itself on making the team hard to beat but we keep losing. One that likes to ‘keep it tight’, yet we are anything but.
The players too – for whom most of us would gladly swap a limb to be in their decoratively coloured boots – need to look at themselves.
Did Steven Whittaker and Javier Garrido do enough to prevent Fulham continually having joy out wide? Did Russell Martin and Sebastien Bassong defend as you would expect them to against Premier League strikers?
I could go on. Not one part of last night’s team functioned as Team Hughton would have wished it to.
In fairness, Bradley Johnson’s work-rate and desire set him apart from most of his team-mates, but that in itself tells a tale. While the bearded one may have an appetite for the battle that was missing from so many of his colleagues, he is not without his technical deficiencies. That he was our stand out player speaks volumes.
I do not intend to dissect all that went awry (Rick’s brief is only circa 800 words) but having already mentioned the central defenders, it is hard to ignore the time and space afforded to Bent as he struck home the opener. Too easy… far too easy.
I have defended the calls for change vehemently up to now (and have taken brickbats aplenty as a result) and am still unconvinced that managerial change in itself will automatically bring about an upward turn in fortune. But – and I just listened intently to a live BBC Radio Norfolk interview with David McNally – it is clear the board are “desperate” that the current slide is halted.
To quote McNally: “When we were in the bottom three Chris’s brief was to get us out and keep us there”. Defeat on Saturday against Hull would likely see us return and then there will be a big decision to be made. The boundaries have been set.
When questioned about the board’s support of Hughton, the chief executive chose his words carefully and, as befitting a politician, gave the direct answer to a direct question a wide berth. Interestingly the CEO also stated: “I would prefer death to relegation … and we’ll do everything in our power to stop that happening”.
Strong words indeed.
And when it will start to register is if Carrow Road seeps gaps of yellow seats. The board take great pride in a full stadium and a season-ticket waiting list and, while the TV millions may dwarf the ticket revenue in the Premier League, the Championship tips the balance in the other direction.
To ignore those who currently fill the old place week in week out would be a big mistake. And the chief executive does not tend to make them.
We have trusted McNally in the past to deliver and he has never failed us. We have to do the same again now.