Neil Adams will remain as manager for the immediate future. We can all be sure of that much, because of the silence which followed the latest crushing disappointment in this desolate sequence of results.
I mean the silence from the board. They must have been as broken as the rest of us after watching Reading breach “Fortress Carrow Road” with two basic set-piece manoeuvres, and I don’t doubt they considered, that night and the following day, whether to give Neil his P45.
That’s what boards do. All of them. When our board decides to stick rather than twist, it is after a lot of considered and frequently passionate debate. Don’t ever mistake silence for inertia.
Three things will have counted in favour of Adams. The first is that, although this blasted “blip” is now a full-blown decline, there were so many good things on show in the first nine league matches, including an almost unprecedented run of consecutive away victories, that we know Adams can coax results out of this well-stocked squad.
The second factor bringing support for Adams is that, I understand, he continues to impress with his personal courage and determination. Last season, in his brief tenure at the end of the campaign, he dealt well and quickly with disciplinary issues. This time, apparently, he has done the same. And, despite all the increasing pressure brought about by the dismal results, he has shown no signs of taking a backward step or of letting that pressure make him cower.
The third factor is the appointment of Mike Phelan. I don’t go along with the conspiracy theory that he was hired to step into Adams’ shoes asap. It was always the intention to get an experienced head in the coaching team, and that is what Phelan provides.
Significantly, though, he is not experienced as a manager, and he has no track record of turning around a failing team. His only coaching in the second tier was with us, almost 20 years ago, and it didn’t bring much success.
But since then he has racked up all those years at Manchester United, at the right hand of the Master, and it makes no sense to appoint him as City’s first team coach and then change the set up after the first game. We have to wait a little longer, at least, to see if his arrival can have an impact.
There was no silence of the fans, though, after the Reading debacle. Others have had their say, on this site and elsewhere, about the booing, the baiting of David McNally and the social media attacks on John Ruddy. But in the debate about behaviour after the match, it needs to be remembered that the Barclay and Snake Pit were magnificent during the game. The support was loud and stirring. From my season ticket seat in the Community Upper, it provided goose bump moments.
As for McNally, the chant of “What a waste of money” obviously referred to his bonus – and I understand the apparent contradiction in his receiving it after relegation. But, come on, surely we understand by now the leading role he took in lifting us from the brink of administration to rude financial health. We wouldn’t have a club to get upset about without him. And, incidentally, his salary was substantially lower than many Premier League CEOs.
But he knows we have to try to get out of this division this season – in the right direction.
In the grimly awful long drive home after the Reading shocker, two siren suggestions crept into my mind. “It’s no fun in the Premier League anyway. And we’ll have just as good a chance next season.”
The first, a reflection particularly on last season’s two painful trips to Manchester in five days, was easily dismissed. This campaign’s long haul to Middlesbrough wasn’t much of a jolly either and, surely, unless we want promotion it makes no sense to invest so much emotional capital during Championship campaigns.
The second sop to my angst – the idea that it might be better next season – was simply wrong.
If Norwich are still in the second tier come August 2015, then their parachute payment will actually go up. The payments are scheduled as follows: £15 million in the first season after relegation, £17m in the second, £8m in the third and £8m in the fourth.
But that £2m fillip won’t be enough to keep the current squad together or improve it substantially. Some of those who stayed after relegation hoping for a quick bounce back, and took a 40 per cent salary cut, would be urged by their agents to take better remuneration elsewhere.
And, besides, our own history teaches us that it is easy to get marooned in this difficult division.
When we were relegated in 1995, we had t-shirts ready for the first game of the next season, at Luton: “On loan to the Endsleigh League.” The competition had changed its sponsors twice before we left it.
At the first game after we were relegated again in 2005, I spoke with Ray Wilkins, who was on England scouting duty. “You’ll have enough goals to get out of this division,” he said, and I nodded sagely.
In the event, we began with three home games, drew all three of them 1-1 and never recovered from the missed opportunity to begin with momentum.
The difference this time is that we started with splendid momentum – well, after that miserable opening at Molineux. But now those wonderful away days in Suffolk, Cardiff, Brentford and Blackpool just taunt us.
Yet I think we’ve “only” had three bad performances. We’ve had plenty of poor results, but that’s not the same thing.
City’s only relentlessly awful performances were away at Wolves and Middlesbrough, and at home to Reading. In every other game, we had good possession, created good chances and looked, for long periods, like a decent team.
So why are we mid-table? Well, I had a relevant conversation with Chris Hughton after he’d been sacked last season.
He said to me that the critical point in the campaign had been that spell in February which brought defeats at Cardiff and West Ham in matches in which we had ample opportunities to score. But I replied that, if a team keeps losing matches – narrowly or not – then there must be a strategic flaw.
Of course confidence plays a major part. A lack of it can be utterly corrosive. But there’s usually something else going wrong too.
Last season, it was our inability to score. This season it has been the frailty of our defence – but I think that is because, on too many occasions, we have been far too gung-ho. Whatever formation we play, we pile forward. The fullbacks join in. The holding midfielders gallop up to the edge of the opposition penalty area. And teams undo us with counter attacks.
I’d expect Phelan to concentrate on the basics of defending as a team. And a few wins would change the entire landscape for us all. They need to come quickly, though.