It matters not how many times we remind ourselves just how tough the Championship is and how often we prepare ourselves for the “rollercoaster” – when days like yesterday come around they hurt.
But it’s not as if this one hasn’t been coming. In truth the warning signs have been there in just about every home game.
Until yesterday City had just done enough to either limp home for a win or snaffle a draw but against a Preston side who were on a six-game unbeaten run – including wins over Huddersfield and Villa – they were out-witted.
Yes, the stats show the Canaries to have had more possession and shots than their opponents but few would argue they did enough to deserve the win on an afternoon that was the very epitome of frustration; compounded further still by post-match news that Jonny Howson will now be missing for at least two months.
It was that type of day.
Yet it could have been all so different if Cameron Jerome’s first minute effort hadn’t brushed the fingertips of Preston keeper, Chris Maxwell. Alas it didn’t nestle in the back of the net and ultimately it was to be Maxwell’s biggest test of the afternoon.
Predictably, and understandably in fairness, there was much angst in evidence afterwards as City fans pondered whether it was ‘one of those days’ or something of greater significance, but most agreed that it’s been coming for a while.
And when the updated league table hoved into view it became evident that the Canaries record against those in the top half of the table is currently not one to be proud of. In fact, of the Championship’s top fourteen only Bristol City have succumbed to City’s Premier League charms, in one of the aforementioned bum-squeakers.
And while no cause for panic – there’s rarely cause for panic – that has to be a concern. And with Brighton, Leeds and QPR up next is something that has to be addressed as soon as.
Whether Alex Neil will look at address it by a tweak of approach or a change on personnel will only be revealed at 2pm next Saturday, but from the outside looking in it appears a little something needs to change.
Wholesale changes, in my view, are not the answer – we’re not jogging along at just below two points per game for no reason – but the disappointment at Craven Cottage closely followed by yesterday’s defeat means to tread the exact same path would be to not recognise any of the current failings.
For starters it’s becoming increasingly difficult for Neil to justify a starting berth for Robbie Brady who, despite the occasional flash of quality, seems unable to extricate himself from the memories of Lille in June. An on-fire Brady would be a shoo-in – this version needs a rocket.
It’s true that an Olsson/Brady combo make for an almost impregnable left side and even an out-of-sorts Irishman makes it solid and secure from a defensive angle but in terms of a quality supply from that flank it invariably comes from him tucking in and the Swede bombing down the outside.
We need the Brady of Euro 2016 vintage, not the Craven Cottage plonk.
The obvious shout is for Alex Pritchard to get the nod instead but, while it’s clear we need to get the ex-Spurs man on the pitch, I share Neil’s caution over playing him and Wes in the same midfield too frequently when the boots are flying and the challenges crunching. The risk is we get over-run.
It was of course a total joy to see the pair of them link up so beautifully against Rotherham but few will grant them the freedom and space the that Millers did.
Wes, following the Rotherham masterclass, has struggled and it’s an obvious one to the watching world that if the Irishman’s effectiveness is blunted then so too is much of City’s creativity. Fulham and Preston both did that job with considerable success.
Throw a jaded-looking Jacob Murphy into the mix and you have a huge chunk of your midfield mis-firing; the upshot of which is one point out of the last six.
So, there is a tweak or two – or even three – needed but what stood out yesterday, and which has been in evidence even in the run of six wins in eight, is there appears a mental fragility to this group. When the going gets tough the resolve doesn’t increase – it fades.
An abundance of technical ability has taken us to fourth in the table but the Championship, and all that comes with it, also takes qualities of a very different kind to be successful. Like bottle, nerve and resilience.
The words of the song tell them to “Never mind the danger…”. The Class of 2016 should heed this message.
Only if you have your fair share of those can the silky skills flourish.
But now’s not the time for recriminations or panic. In the cold light of day Newcastle are just four points better off than City and if the aim is to remain ‘in the mix’ until that frantic three-month run-in begins then we’re on course.
Let’s just acknowledge there is ample room for improvement.
“On the Ball City…”
I find it surreal people are still this myopic. We reward the same mistakes with starting berths. Those who start or don’t want to be here make the same mistakes. It hardly takes a genius and only serves to aggravate those on the bench who perform and are swiftly removed. There is ano obvious problem in the way the team is selected and setup. Neil is SPL standard.
Gary Gowers says
Cheers Jeff – ‘Myopic’ is actually the nicest thing I’ve been called all week, seriously 🙂
Good points. Agree changes needed. What’s disappointing is that we have spent £m’s strengthening the squad only for our signings either to sit on the bench or, worse, not even find a place in the 18. What was the point?
Maddison is playing to rave reviews for Aberdeen. He cld surely have added some spark, and provided something different, but we send him out on loan. Why?
Basically we have much the same team that got us promoted & then relegated. Our first 11 needs to improve incrementally but there’s not much evidence it is. Too stale !
Peter C says
With 5 previous home wins it was inevitable we would lose one sooner or later so too much should not be read into this one result. But, although we are averaging nearly two points per game, this basic statistic hides the fact that 9 of our 14 games have been against teams in the bottom half of the current table. We have only 4 points from the five games against top half teams. Adjust for this factor and we are firmly in play-off territory. We perhaps also need to build in, as results become more inconsistent as this factor balances out, that we, perhaps more than others, will feel the impact of the looming transfer window. Players such as Klose, Olsson and Brady all considering their options.
There are, as far as I am concerned, two basic problems which will take more than tweaking. Firstly we were relegated last year as we were unable to defend as a team. As demonstrated yesterday, despite the drop to another level, this has not been corrected. It will hardly be a surprise to the rest of the division that if they are well organised, disciplined and put us under pressure they will get something out of the game!
Secondly, we have an alarming ability to bring in expensive players and get nothing or very little value from them, Naismith, Canos, Oliveira, Pritchard. Add in those deemed not good enough to play, Bassong, Whittaker, Lafferty. The value of a large talented squad is negated if we cannot vary the tactics and play to get the best out of them!
If you can’t countenance playing hoolahan and Pritchard together, why does Pritchard have to be the fall guy? Pritchard should be the first name on the team sheet until his form dips in the way hoolahans has and that of Murphy who has given four sub standard performances on the spin. The inclusion of Brady was simply stupid. Castigated by the commentary team at Fulham and hauled off yet still his place is secure. I don’t care about his reputation and I certainly don’t give a monkeys about his exploits for Ireland, he’s been poor this season and lately appears disinterested. What has happened to canos? Has Neil decided he doesn’t cpfancy him? And if that is the case, how has oliveira survived the cut? Lafferty would provide more from the bench than that show pony. Tettey is another not living up to his reputation and a strong manager would replaced him with Thompson by now. Confidence in Neil is starting to wane as he appears unable to address familiar failings while blunting our attacking capabilities. His team selection, use of substitutes, tactical awareness and ability to motivate this team out of its torpor are catching up with him and I believe he is a couple of poor results/performances from feeling the heat from the crowd.
Gary Gowers says
Chris (5) – After yesterday, Thompson for Tettey is a decent shout. Also agree that, rightly or wrongly, AN is a couple of poor performances away from feeling the heat.
John Scent says
Good article, and summed up by Bracken (3) at the end….TOO STALE. Only having seen the home displays, and suffered the away games via radio, it seems to me that too many players are merely going through the motions. Where is the Brady of the Euro’s? On most of his displays this season, he will be lucky to have any suitors come January. Of far greater concern, how do we replace Klose and Olsson, both of whom will be in demand, and both probably wanting to move if promotion is not looking favourable. Unless a major overhaul is effected should/when we get promoted, I fear it will be another immediate return – possibly with a record negative goal difference……OTBC!
Jake G says
Wasn’t at yesterday’s game but can’t help but think Brady gets in the side as the only player that can take a decent free kick / corner.
Once he went off at Fulham the alternatives on display for delivering a half decent delivery were woeful when we really could have done with some dangerous balls into the box. Easy to overlook but important when playing against well-organised teams.
Organised and disciplined – unfortunately can’t be used to describe our defence …..
Two months without a clean sheet means its a miracle that more defeats havent happened sooner.
Gary Field says
A strange afternoon where City dominated possession but didn’t actually do much with it. I lost count of the number of times Wes and Tettey gave away possession cheaply.
Preston were well organised and, in Bailey Wright, they had a leader on the pitch; something that City seem to be lacking.
Last season Alex Neil was criticised for tinkering too much, now he seems reluctant to change when players aren’t on top of their game. It’s a tough gig this management malarkey!
I have been impressed with Thompson every time I’ve seen him,Gary. Tettey has a suspension due any time soon and suspect we might get to make that comparison. Although, knowing Neil, Thompson would give a sublime display only to be replaced for the next game! Regarding Neil, by his own admission he had a very easy ride upon relegation, he can’t expect that to continue if city flounder in the championship. Regarding jakes comment about Brady’s efficacy at corners, from memory the early corners were taken by Murphy and the later ones, including that appalling side footer, were by hoolahan. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure if Brady took any set pieces. Incidentally, the best set piece was a Pritchard free kick.
I have been critical of AN ever since he failed to strengthen the squad after promotion to the PL The weaknesses were there for all to see , especially in central defence . 18 months on & all we have to show for 40 million spent is Klose , a few very promising youngsters who have been shipped out on loan or can’t even get the odd 25 minutes as a sub & a bench full of signings that can’t dislodge AN’ s undropables
Some Senior players appear to be going through the motions, promising youngsters like the Murphys seem bemused & void of the refreshing enthusiasm & flair that gave us such hope earlier this season. There is a sad lack of tactical nous , & substitutions have generally been ineffective.
While our present position is no by no means the disaster it could soon be so On the face of it , a top 6 position, averaging 2 points a game is satisfactory given my criticisms , but like so many other supporters I am not convinced.
The common denominator of all my moans is of course the manager. He talks a good fight but 2 things he is quoted as saying reinforce my predujice. After the Wembley triumph he said he would stand by those who had got us promoted. We know where that got us. Back where we started ! It’s not hard to work out that if you play in the PL with a championship team you are likely to finish up back in the Championship.Also It doesn’t follow that playing in the Championship with a PL ?? team will ensure promotion.
I was quite hopeful at the end of last season when AN acknowledged he had made mistakes & would learn from them. There has been no evidence of that so far this season. That is why I think we will struggle despite the reasonable start unless something is done before it’s too late
I hope I am proved wrong. I only write this because I care. Norwich City have been part of my life fo nearly 60 years , & will always be so regardless of their fortunes That doesn’t mean I have to suffer in silence , blindly accepting whatever is put before me. OTBC
Dave H says
The cup match against Leeds perhaps now takes on even greater significance. The excellent performance against Everton followed a great win at Forest so it was always going to be difficult to force their way in – not so this time.
The Boy Billy says
Chris (5) sums up my thoughts exactly – and those of many in the Jarrold (sorry, O’Reilly’s coffee stand) where I sit. Bizarrely, Hoolahan has been praised from the rooftops in the local press in the past few weeks – but he’s been FAR better in earlier seasons than he has this season. His distribution has, all too often, been error prone and everyone knows he can only turn one way and use one foot (unlike Pritchard). He’s now in the twilight of his career – not at the zenith.
Jacob Murphy’s luck has simply run out. He’s a one trick pony who won’t even contemplate going in for a tackle (he makes Redmond look like Norman Hunter…) and he ambles around the pit h, reluctant to break into a sweat. He should be dropped (sorry, rested; mustn’t hurt the poor lad’s feelings) and farmed out to a League 1 side.
Brady has shown no spark – except when castigating fellow players – all season. Anyone who runs on the spot for 10 seconds before taking a penalty shouldn’t be on the B list for taking them.
I fear that AN has taken to heart too literally last season’s criticism of his chopping and changing the team each week. This season, it seems to me that, no matter what certain players do in training or mid-week cup/U23 matches, his first XI will always be the same – subject only to the vagaries of injuries.
I admire AN’s many qualities – but the one he’s lacking is the ability to learn from mistakes and the blindingly obvious third rate performances delivered on the pitch over the past 2-3 weeks by certain team members.
As I have posted before, This League is a long haul and AN will not use the squad unless injuries dictate. So he is at best re-active instead of pro-active, therefor not ‘managing’ the squad. Either you are in or you are out.
Come January, AN will clearly want reinforcements, but not unreasonably, the board will want to know why when he is playing with essentially ‘his’ XI week in, week out. I cannot see this working.
The club squad needs to be down-sized, but higher quality, therefore the wages are being used more wisely. This could come to a head earlier than some may think if AN doesn’t up his game. His probation period is definitely over.
Victor, Dave, Billy and Darren make good points. Darren particularly when he states that a board not known for spending money has a ready made excuse for not doing so in January. We can all see that the squad needs thinning out but serious efforts are neede to improve key areas. Billy rightly points out that Hoolahan has been the subject of several articles in the local press last week, in one, he states he is fit enough to play three games a week, in another Neil argues that he will manage hoolahan carefully to optimise his effectiveness. Neither happened last week as hoolahan struggled in two of the Games and Pritchard idled away on the bench. Dave points to the uplifting cup win at Everton which due to its falling in the middle of a purple patch of results was little use to,my of the players who starred that night in terms of an immediate elevation to league action. With places up for grabs a good manager would use the last two abject displays as motivation for a much needed good result at Leeds with a promise of dislodging the current incumbent. Thompson, Godfrey, Josh Murphy, Canos and of course Pritchard are amongst those who should be induced to play out of their skins amongst others. The likes of Brady, Tettey, Jacob, Martin, et al should be in fear of their places this weekend. Not that I suspect Brady cares much either way. Lafferty, Oliveira and Morris should feature in a three way shoot out for back up striker. With the under 23 side playing Monday night the selection for Leeds will be interesting but Neil needs to be aware that any continuation of last weeks garbage will further disenfranchise a moody support still smarting from relegation.
Brilliant post Chris and whilst I would love to see Brady, Tettey, Jacob, Martin and Hoolahan all ‘rested/dropped’ for the game at Brighton, I’d be very susrprised if AN will be so bold.
As I’ve read elsewhere, last season he seemed to make wholesale changes to the starting 11 on an almost weekly basis, whereas this season, I think he’s ony used 16 players!!!
Sadly Ed, I fear you are right. Brady is almost certainly pencilled in for Brighton.