This supporting Norwich City lark is not easy is it. Tis a gig where heartache is never far away and it’s hard to believe that glorious afternoon in north-west London occurred just five months ago to the very day.
Those of us who, following said triumph, had notions of Premier League mid-table contentment have had them quashed early doors and with the season only just a quarter of the way through it’s become fairly clear that the words ‘relegation’ and ‘dogfight’ are to figure heavily between now and May.
It’s hard to admit, but yesterday we looked every bit a side destined to be scrapping it out at the wrong end, and not a particularly well equipped one at that.
The horrors of St James’ Park clearly played heavily on the mind, and not just on the chosen XI. The Carrow Road crowd was subdued from the word go – as you tend to be after a 6-2 defeat – and Team Neil reacted to last week’s adversity with an approach that neither sat comfortably or came naturally.
But changes had to be made and Steven Whittaker’s demotion to the bench was about as surprising as a River End moan.
Rather more surprising, to me at least, was that Martin Olsson – provider of both of last week’s goals – also fell on his sword. Having said that however, the left-sided link-ups of Robbie Brady and Matt Jarvis were one of yesterday’s few bright spots and there was a clear instruction for the former to be cautious in his approach, allowing the latter the freedom of the left flank for his old school wing play.
Graham Dorrans was another to pay the price, presumably for permitting Moussa Sissoko the freedom of Tyneside, but still, on paper, it looked a well-balanced midfield full of attacking intent. And it terms of controlling possession, again it succeeded.
Alas, as we’re quickly learning, the Premier League 2015-style is, alongside the top-level technique, all about pace, power and dynamism. It’s about soaking up pressure when needed and then exploding on the break to exploit the wide open spaces. It’s about gobbling up chances when the present themselves.
Right now it looks as if we’re stuck in 2008 and, with it, looking just a little naive. We want to keep the ball, to dominate possession and to pin the opposition back in their own half but part of the reason we do so comfortably is because teams are happy to let us do it, content in the knowledge that if they stay solid we’ll eventually over-commit and they can hit us on the counter.
And when your defending is ordinary, to say the least, it’s never going to end well.
The failure to land a quality centre-back in the window has been done to death but has come back to haunt us even quicker that most of us imagined. Yesterday it was laid bare for all to see.
The decision to move Russell Martin out of the centre was one that needed to be made – even though moving him to right-back smacked of just shifting the problem – but with Seb Bassong also struggling for form it leaves Alex Neil with nowhere to go. His slightly resigned and exasperated tone post-match said it all.
The skipper’s struggle for form and confidence has occupied plenty of column inches and web pages but his error-ridden display yesterday did little to help. Andre Wisdom must now be questioning whether his decision to head east was a wise one; if he’s not going to get a game at right-back in this Norwich team it’s never going to happen.
Of many current concerns, the biggest one is the inability to keep anything even close to a clean sheet. West Brom only needed the one yesterday but it could and should have been more with Salomon Rondon and Gareth McAuley (who we can always rely on for a favour) both missing pre half-time sitters.
The goal, when it arrived, was another example of Martin and Nathan Redmond collectively permitting a cross to come in from the City right far too easily and the sight of Rondon brushing aside Bassong’s aerial challenge with such comfort was painful to watch.
City’s response was tepid at best and, in truth, a livelier than usual pre-kick-off kick-about from the mascots was about as menacing as anything the Canaries were able to muster in the second period. No lack of effort or desire but a definite lack of belief and, against a side that has now kept 16 clean sheets in 2015, a goal never looked forthcoming.
So where now? Well, in Slaven Bilic’s Match of the Day interview with Gary Lineker he spoke of part of West Ham’s early season success being down to doing the basic things well. Perhaps that’s where the City comeback begins.
As things stand, the foundations are not solid. And with a trip to the Etihad up next that’s not ideal.
But Alex Neil won’t shirk the challenge ahead, or shrink. And he won’t permit his players to do so either. There’ll be no white flags and we didn’t grace Wembley with such verve and swagger to allow it to disintegrate just ten games into the new season.
It’s time to show some, and that includes the fans.