Alex Pritchard’s 71st minute penalty abruptly ended Alex Neil’s honeymoon at Carrow Road this afternoon as the new City chief saw his charges slump to a 2-1 defeat to play-off rivals Brentford.
Hit hard by a rash of midfield absences, City were never at their slickest best against a hard-working Bees outfit.
With Watford running riot against a hapless Blackpool, the result left the Canaries four points off the play-off places.
Of greater interest now will be the fact that City are now eight days away from seeing the transfer window slam shut on them. On this performance and result, Neil will have every good reason to splash the cash and trust fresh blood to restore much-needed momentum to Norwich’s season.
For all that was said and written in the run-up to Neil Adams’ ‘resignation’, the Norfolk side were still seventh in the table. Tonight they sit eighth. Hence why Neil will be very keen to get back on the front foot again before the doubters start to gain even greater sway.
“The bottom line is that I had one central midfielder who was fit,” said Neil afterwards, inevitably quizzed about the team selection that found Steven Whittaker asked to hold the fort alongside Bradley Johnson.
“To be honest, I thought he was a bit harshly treated,” added the Norwich boss, whose learning curve is proving to be ever more steeper.
“He was asked to play a role that he’s not usually accustomed to playing and I thought he worked his socks off for the group. I didn’t think he did particularly poor – to be honest, he was the least of my concerns today.”
It was the overall level of performance that worried him more; that and the greater desire on offer from Brentford.
“I just don’t think we played well enough,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards. “The majority of the team did not play well enough.
“We didn’t do well enough in any area of the pitch. I didn’t think we had enough attacking threat; we didn’t dominate the ball well enough in the middle areas of the pitch and defensively we didn’t do well enough when they were attacking.”
Work to do, in short.
With the new Canary chief still without the services of the suspended Jonny Howson and the injured Alexander Tettey, so the additional absence of Gary O’Neil found the luckless Whittaker being pushed into a more forward and central role ahead of a set back four.
Whether it had the desired effect or not was something of a moot point as Norwich coughed and spluttered their way badly through the opening half. It proved to be an odd decision. Albeit enforced, seemingly. And a brighter, sharper Brentford would take full advantage.
There was as much interest on the bench where two former loanees returned to stake their claim for first team inclusion under the new broom instituted by the Neil regime.
Elliott Bennett’s return to his Brighton roots was always billed as much about getting the winger game time post major injury; more problematic has been the future of former skipper Sebastien Bassong who found himself exiled to Vicarage Road under the previous administration.
This weekend and Neil’s promise of a clean slate found him named among the substitutes. Quite what reception the Carrow Road faithful would afford him should his services be required was another matter.
Given the problems afflicting the Turner-Cuellar partnership, that question might have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
As for the game itself, the manager’s hopes of making it three wins out of three for his tenure received an early blow 20 minutes into the first period when the Bees stole into the lead via Peleteiro Ramallo.
In fairness, the West Londoners advantage only lasted six minutes before Redmond’s recent rich vein of form extended to a goal – one that will have steadied a few nerves around the place as Norwich struggled to make light of their midfield changes.
The Wesley Brigade would not be too amused to see the former Rangers full-back the nod ahead of the mercurial Dubliner; the counter argument would, as ever, revolve around the soft centre that invariably leaves. Johnson would have to be at his tireless best to make amends – if you run with just the two in the middle.
Quite what teenager Conor McGrandles might add to the midfield mix at this level remains something for the future. For now he would have to be content for another outing on the bench.
The interval brought the first change of the afternoon as Bennett replaced the tetchy Lafferty whose first half had ended with his seventh booking of the season; his ninth if his two for Northern Ireland are included.
City now had two, natural wingers adding both width and pace in the hope of then servicing the needs of Cameron Jerome and Gary Hooper. It was whether the combination of Johnson and Whittaker could find the guile to match their natural grit.
The home crowd would make their judgement plain come the eventual change.
Hoolahan had by then already arrived to deliver the missing guile and possession – only for his appearance to be over-shadowed by events in the City box where, not for the first time this season, Carlos Cuellar conceded a penalty.
Andre Gray drew the foul; Pritchard converted the penalty. The Bees were buzzing and Neil had been handed his next managerial challenge – to prise at least a point out of the contest from the game’s remaining 20 minutes.
Lewis Grabban would replace Whittaker for the game’s final ten minutes as Neil looked for someone, somewhere, to offer the inspiration Norwich required to at least haul themselves level.
Russell Martin would see a header blocked; Grabban see an injury-time effort saved.
Five minutes of added on time failed to make a difference as Brentford held on to a big, big away win in their chase of the Premier League dream.
As for Norwich, it was a weekend that produced more questions than answers for supporters and new manager alike.