Being off the ‘beat’ in terms of weekly trips to Colney, you miss getting a feel for players as individuals.
Who talks sense. Who will walk the walk when the chips are down. Who are the men for a crisis.
Whether the Canaries are in the midst of a full-blown crisis on the back of this weekend’s 2-1 away defeat at Nottingham Forest will – as ever – depend on the way you fill your glass.
The top of the Championship may still be just a couple of wins distant and it is, indeed, a marathon not a sprint.
But as another international break looms, there is undoubtedly a large degree of navel-gazing afoot. Someone, somewhere, has to put a brake on recent results. Whether it is common to all clubs in this age of instant gratification and social media outrage, but poison and recrimination is never too far from the surface Carrow Road way.
Particularly in one of those in-between spells manager-wise. When the present incumbent remains to prove whether he is a Walker, a Worthington or a Lambert. Or one of those that litter the record books in-between.
All of which made listening to the thoughts of Gary O’Neil post-Forest all the more interesting.
Is he one you would want with you when the feathers start to fly?
One other point. Having done post-match interviews for 20-odd years, after defeats like this weekend you also know how hard it is to simply get a player to ‘face the Press’. They might be pushed out there by the luckless Press officer, but few willingly volunteer to explain away two goals in the last five minutes and a record that has seen City crash from top of the tree to tenth.
In the space of not much more than a month.
“To concede two goals, one from one big punt down the pitch and the second one from our corner…
“You wouldn’t be able to get away with that in the Youth team. To think that you’ll get promoted to the Premier League doing it, you’ve got no chance. So we need to sort it out.”
By footballer standards, that is a decent dollop of honesty. And O’Neil can speak with experience, too. He did get promoted to the Premier League last season with Harry Redknapp’s QPR.
They might not have been the prettiest, but there were enough old lags in that side to do a job at places like Forest (a). Grizzled dogs of war in the manner of Joey Barton and Richard Dunne. With the 31-year-old O’Neil slung somewhere in between.
So he has walked the walk; which, to my mind, qualifies him to talk the talk.
As he unpicks the second goal, in particular, there is ‘good pro’ talking, to quote H Redknapp.
“I think there is a couple of poor decisions defensively having just seen it there briefly on the lap-top. A couple of us could have made better decisions with our recovery runs and stuff,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“And people sometimes need reminding of their duties. It’s all well and good playing nice football and passing it, when the ball breaks from our corner how badly do you want to run 80-yards back to stop them scoring is the question?
“How much does it mean to you to stop them scoring a goal? So we’ll have a look and ask some serious questions of eachother.”
That’s the kind of talk that a Carl Robinson would come out with. Or, in days gone by, a Gary Megson. Players’ players. Players that did the ugly stuff that no-one but their fellow players ever really noticed.
I strongly suspect that Redknapp stuffed his Rangers side full of decent pros that did such ‘ugly stuff’ well. Diggers. Water-carriers, in the mould of a Didier Deschamps.
And if Norwich get to January still somewhere in the mid-table to play-off mix, that is what I’d buy. Two old lags.
Dion Dublin – Nigel Worthington’s last throw of his transfer dice – would be a classic example. Could barely run for the rest of the week, but boy could he run a game. At whichever end of the team he played.
“It is a tight league,” admitted O’Neil. “But the fact that we’ve lost so many games recently is alarming and the manner in which we’re conceding goals. But we will dig in and get through this.”
Which is – in truth – the only way that Norwich will turn this round. By digging in, doing the ugly stuff better and then – base built – going out to play.
It was always one of Paul Lambert’s biggest managerial mantras, that whatever else you do, don’t get beat. Finish with at least a point.
It’s a simple truth. One well known to Adams and his coaching staff; it is not something that only a Pulis or a Redknapp can impart. Every pro knows it.
It is just that some of them do it for all 90 minutes; others for a mere 85.
The trick is (a) to get a side together where more players do it for the 90 than don’t.
And (b) find yourself players of strong enough character to remind their fellow players that are of a mind to play for 85 minutes, to kindly play for 90.
In Grant Holt, the Canaries had just such a character. It is why City would score in the 93rd minute. Or the 97th. Because of such characters.
Whether Adams has enough in his current dressing room to see Norwich turn this current slump around will do much to shape his own managerial future.
O’Neil sounds like one; Russ Martin will be another; Michael Turner strikes me as one for the trenches.
Thereafter, we’ll see.
But showing character is what this league is all about. Faint hearts get you only to Yeovil.