“That’s not good enough. It’s a game we should have won”. The post-match words of Neil Adams to the BBC yesterday.
But it had an all too familiar ring. It’s a line that could have been – and probably was – trotted out after the recent games against (draws breath) Charlton, Rotherham, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest. That Brighton have now been added to that ever-burgeoning list is confirmation that it’s currently “not good enough”.
But where do we go from here? Is the midweek arrival of Mike Phelan really going to be enough to halt the current mallaise? Never before can I recall so much riding on the arrival of a coach.
For the neutral – and the innocent footballing eyes of my ten year-old son – yesterday’s game had it all; six goals including a worldie from Russell Martin, thrills, spills and was rounded off with a dismissal.
And I couldn’t be happier that Aidan loved every second of it. He’s hooked and Dad is proud. But from the gnarled, tired and slightly cynical eyes of a Carrow Road ‘veteran’ the words of Adams summed it up.
And it’s not only games of football that are slipping away. At this rate so is the club’s best chance of returning to the Premier League. The rate of the slide is alarming.
Yet what makes it worse is that City’s current form is not completely abject. There are spells in a game when they look a decent side. They do create chances. They do (occasionally) play at a tempo that can hurt teams.
But it doesn’t happen often enough. It’s sporadic, off the cuff, usually borne of a piece of individual magic. It’s not embedded or methodical. There is a lack of shape, and what shape there is keeps changing.
We all like to see fluidity and flexibility in the side – have demanded it fact, after a few seasons of inflexibility – but it now feels as if we have turned full circle and players are now unsure of their ever-changing roles.
Certainly the site of Bradley Johnson having to patrol the left side of the midfield had an odd look to it with Kyle Lafferty and Josh Murphy on the bench. In fairness, Johnson did put in a decent shift but if the plan was for him to ‘tuck in’ and tighten things up it didn’t work.
To concede three goals at home in any given game is not good enough. To concede three in the manner we did was unforgivable. I’ll refrain from dissecting the all too obvious wrongs in each goal, only to say the defending for the second was of an ilk that would have earned me an earful in my amateur playing days.
But, as Adams, slightly ironically, pointed out, it’s happening time and time again. Lessons are most definitely not being learned.
In the spirit of taking positives out of adversity we all thrive on a good soundbite. You know the sort… ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ or the one about learning from your mistakes.
Yet City are doing neither. They’re certainly not getting stronger – quite the opposite – and the same mistakes are befalling them week in, week out.
While much of the defensive fragility has been put down to a gung-ho, Keegan/Lambert-esque approach, yesterday was a little different. Individual errors and carelessness are now equally prevalent. It’s an unhealthy combination and as long as it exists it becomes increasingly hard to see City winning games – certainly on a regular basis.
There is no solid base from which to perform. The house has all the fancy fixtures and fittings but the foundations are made of sand. Three goals should be enough to win a Championship home game but in the end we were grateful for a point; only a predatory Gary Hooper strike away from losing it.
And before anyone tells me, ‘that’s the nature of the Championship’, yesterday was hardly a one-off. Implosion is now the norm. We give away soft goals, we miss good chances, we show a lack of urgency and desire. That’s what we do. It’s our shtick.
Whether the arrival of Phelan as coach is enough to halt this slide will only be revealed in the coming weeks but something has to change. Either the current message isn’t getting across or the message is wrong in the first place. More of the same is clearly not going to turn the fortunes around.
Hopefully the new coach will bring some Fergie-style motivation to proceedings because right now one has to question the desire. Yesterday’s opening 33 minutes breathed new life into the word tepid and second gear was only found once Brighton had taken the lead. And it’s another recurring theme. City are slow starters.
It sounds rather too simplistic, but is it not worth the pre-match routine – in the dressing room and on the pitch – being completely re-hashed? Must be worth a try. Tried and tested is not working at the moment.
So… plenty for the new-look management team to ponder in the coming week and one guesses that Reading are licking their lips at the prospect of a trip to Carrow Road. A fortress it certainly is not.
But let’s keep our heads. There is still time to arrest the slide, particularly given the talent in the squad, but just now it feels like a decent football team struggling to reveal itself.
Let’s just hope that Team Adams mark II can find the missing formula sooner rather than later, else we could be heading for a repeat of season 2005/06. And that was horrible.