A week ago, the world looked pretty rosy. Pre-season had gone well; fans had absolute faith in the manager. The squad had strength in depth, especially in midfield. One or two more signings would be welcome, but they’d be icing on the cake. Bring on the league.
A few days later it’s all different. The club has clearly stood still while others have moved forward. The team is naïve, and needs three or four new faces. Not even sure about the manager. It’s a crisis and the next game is huge.
But enough about Arsenal.
I can sometimes be accused of exaggeration, but not in this case. Arsenal have lost one game; in the forthcoming 37 they need to be sharper and they probably need the striker they’re trying to sign. But they have an outstanding manager and they’ll do fine. The panic and protests are as ridiculous as they’re unhelpful.
That’s easy to see from the outside. In truth, the parallel situation at Norwich should be fairly easy for us to see from the inside too. Alex Neil is an exceptional manager who’s up to the challenge and will address the shortcomings we saw in the first game.
He’ll be backed by David McNally and the board. Yes, we have a budget; we won’t pay the first price quoted to us for a player, and will miss out on some because we won’t throw our wage structure out of the window. But McNally’s record of delivering the players his managers want is outstanding.
By the way, we were given a tough opener. Palace’s form in the second half of last season was sensational, especially away from home. Their 10th place finish reflected much better than 10th place form after bringing in Alan Pardew.
Faced with that challenge, we played a lot of bright football and, but for refereeing foibles, would probably have got a draw or better.
No cause for meltdown. Yes, we were sloppy in places. And we were reminded that in a higher league, opponents are more clinical in both penalty areas. We’ll sharpen up.
Actually, we’ve been here before. Having got out of League 1, our first game of the Championship season 2010-11 was home to Watford. We lost, conceding three goals, and the mood turned. Some of the optimism born of promotion evaporated; fans questioned Paul Lambert’s team selection, tactics – and whether he was up to the job. Perhaps we needed someone more experienced.
Good thing we didn’t listen to the ‘panickers’.
No-one would now say we should have got rid of Paul Lambert. He got us promotion from the Championship, and had a hugely successful season with us in the Premier League, didn’t he? But look at that Premier League season a little more carefully. We didn’t actually win a home game until 26 September.
Will we ever learn patience? Not if we judge by that idiots’ forum Canary Call. Now, I’m sure the first caller they put on air isn’t typical (at least I desperately hope not). But how can anyone who cares about Norwich and knows anything about football give prime air time to someone calling for Alex Neil to be sacked?
While other fans don’t go as far as that, it seems for some that “In Alex we trust” is a long way from being unconditional. He deserves better than that. I suspect he doesn’t lose much sleep over fans’ criticism of his selections, but it doesn’t help either.
As a pollster, my credibility perhaps isn’t as high as it might be. But I make a firm prediction: if Alex Neil and David McNally are still at our club in five years from now, we’ll be firmly established in the top division.
Isn’t that what we want?
More immediately, if we’re pushing the boat out for a major signing, should it be a central defender or a striker? Most seem to think the priority should be in defence because we often look fragile.
My view is different.
Conceding goals, I reckon, is more about style and approach than about quality of defenders. We had virtually the same defensive personnel under Paul Lambert in 2011-12 and Chris Hughton in 2012-13, but the former conceded almost 10 goals more.
On the other hand, there’s no substitute for a quality striker who sniffs out chances and converts a high proportion of them.
Then again, I WAS a striker….
PS. Just a thought for Watford fans. In 2013-14 Norwich began their season with a 2-2 draw against Everton. We got relegated.