Neil Adams’ managerial fortunes would come under renewed pressure tonight as the Canaries slipped further back into the Championship pack courtesy of a 2-1 home defeat by Reading.
Ipswich’s injury-time win at Charlton had already cranked up the pressure on the former Youth team boss as the Norfolk side looked to end a miserable run of just one win in their last seven home games.
That would become one in eight by the end of the afternoon as two, carbon-copy goals from teenage centre-half Jake Cooper wiped out Gary Hooper’s tenth minute opener and left Adams and his new chief lieutenant Mike Phelan with a host of increasingly desperate issues to resolve ahead of that frantic festive period.
Not least in front of John Ruddy’s goal where City’s soft heart was exposed yet again – this time by a kid from Berkshire with barely half a dozen first team outings to his name.
“We’ve got to seriously dig deep as a group,” said Adams afterwards, as Carrow Road made its feelings all-too plain at the final whistle.
“Is it a game we should win? Of course it is – but this is happening too often,” he admitted. Home is where the heart is; or isn’t right now.
The manner in which the two goals were conceded was, Adams said, ‘criminal’.
“We’re making it too easy for teams at times,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk. “It’s hugely frustrating and disappointing – and that’s the understatement of the year.
“We’ve got a group of players in there that are committed; are good enough to be winning games. But talk is cheap. You have to go out there and do it.”
As Adams fought to regain some much-needed momentum this season – both for the club and him as an individual learning what a rough trade management can be – so he made some significant changes for this afternoon’s contest; decisions that can either make or continue to break your managerial repute.
None more so than the sight of skipper Russell Martin returning to centre-half as first Carlos Cueller and then Jos Hooiveld paid the price for Norwich’s recent soft centre. Nothing is quite working alongside Michael Turner.
It prompted the return of Steven Whittaker at right-back as the City chief looked to bottle up the back end of his side after recent sieve-like efforts in front of Ruddy’s goal. Alas, nothing was about to change on that front.
It was all change again in midfield where the suspension of Bradley Johnson forced Adams into making a change. Kyle Lafferty was the beneficiary – not Gary O’Neil.
The latter had looked a safe pair of hands in the middle of the park, but his rise to prominence has proved surprisingly short-lived. Up front, Hooper was the man to partner Cameron Jerome as Lewis Grabban found himself surplus to requirements. Long gone are his glory, glory days of summer.
Hooper, by contrast, is in something of a purple patch. Relatively.
For in the tenth minute he was on hand to bundle home City’s opener after Nathan Redmond and Jerome had done their best to open the Royals up.
A goal to the good. For all of four minutes before Master Cooper headed Reading level from little more than six yards out off a routine corner. Soft, in a word.
Once again, Norwich’s defensive frailties would come back under the microscope; once again, questions will be raised in the house as to why they cannot sit tight for ten and hold onto a lead.
Twice in the space of five minutes Lafferty would look to restore Norwich’s advantage as the Canaries pushed forward with positive intent. Wherein lies one of the dangers of the Adams regime; that it is all-too open and gung-ho. Winning ugly by playing ugly is not in the manager’s DNA.
Before the break and even worse was to follow as the Royals took the lead – with a carbon copy of their opener. Albeit with the helping hand of Ruddy.
Or rather the lack of a helping hand as the City keeper failed to judge the flight of the ball and a gleeful Cooper, all on his lonesome, headed home his second goal of the afternoon.
One would have presumed that after the first goal, someone, somewhere would have got the message to pick up the big lad in the 35 shirt as he strolled up for the next set-piece. At six-foot four, the 19-year-old centre-half ought to have stood out in the crowd.
He clearly didn’t and as his marker went AWOL again, it came as little surprise to find the boos echoing around Carrow Road at the interval as the managerial miseries continued for Adams and Co.
Josh Murphy would arrive on the hour-mark in a bid to spark life into Norwich’s bid to at least level proceedings; Lafferty was the man to give way as City’s performance levels flat-lined alarmingly.
Murphy one side, Redmond to the other; Jonny Howson looking to find space and opportunity between Jerome and Hooper. There was no shortage of attacking ambition in Adams’ plans. In theory.
Indeed, before the end the embattled Canary chief had added Grabban to his forward mix as Martin Olsson made way. O’Neil would appear for a flattened Alexander Tettey amid the game’s dying embers as he, too, tried to prise a point out of Reading’s hands.
Nothing budged – Murphy would blaze over deep into injury time and sum up the contest. All concerned would feel the full force of the fans’ frustrations on the message boards and phone-ins tonight.
Right now, something ain’t right.
For the point would be that, at home, Norwich should have no need to be chasing a contest of this ilk; they should be grinding down teams and with it, grinding out the results that keep them firmly in the play-off mix.
Right now they lack grind. At the back, they lack true grit. Put together, that could cost Adams very dear.