On the same weekend that England’s cricketers disintegrated in the sweltering Dhaka heat, City suffered an even greater humiliation in the somewhat less exotic location of the southern English coast.
City were shambolic, hopeless, apathetic, upon encountering their old manager; failing to take responsibility nor manifest any form of pride in donning the yellow shirt. Not even the coaches that travelled back up to Norfolk on Saturday evening contained as many passengers.
City supporters were united in a sense of common disillusionment and fury following this horror-show, ardently searching for the causes of what was our greatest humiliation of recent times. Our players resembled statues at the Amex, appearing fundamentally indifferent to the catastrophic events unfolding around them.
Things have to change.
With Alex Neil facing what could be a Championship D-Day at Carrow Road against Leeds on Saturday, the City boss must be bold. He must ruthlessly omit the passengers in this Norwich City team, the players who ultimately gave up and accepted the intelligent and effective bullying of Glenn Murray last Saturday afternoon.
The line-up at Brighton was rampant with players with nothing to prove, with no desire or hunger, with no real ambition or passion about wearing the shirt. It was a feckless display.
The scenes witnessed by the travelling support were disgraceful. After Michael McGovern demonstrated his ineptitude in the City goal to gift the menacing Murray Brighton’s first goal, our players were despondent. There was no resistance, no palpable manifestations of desire to salvage a way back into this game. Then the floodgates opened.
Neil must now be shrewd, selecting players with a fervent sense of hunger and motivation to propel this Norwich side back into the Premier League. The team at Brighton so alarmingly lacked these characters. Our squad, however, does not.
Neil must be bold and select the talented Louis Thompson for Saturday’s critical encounter, replacing the often impetuous Alex Tettey who collected his inevitable booking at the Amex and will subsequently miss the weekend’s game.
Tettey is a good player but lacks dynamism, frequently moving the ball too slowly to penetrate oppositions. Thompson was superb in our EFL cup disaster at Leeds, winning tackles, thwarting attacks and carrying the ball forward with power, drive and determination.
Thompson embodies the spirit and hunger that this City side so badly needs an injection of. He is so experienced for a 21 year-old, playing nearly 100 games for Swindon Town in League One. It showed in Yorkshire last Tuesday.
City’s youngster visibly stood-out in an otherwise dismal evening, running relentlessly for 120 minutes and demonstrating promising signs of leadership and taking responsibility. He will thrive in what will surely be a febrile Carrow Road atmosphere on Saturday.
City are clearly missing the reliable Jonny Howson, who distributes the ball quickly and enterprisingly. It is no coincidence that our slide has come at a time when our terrific midfielder has been absent. Howson balances the side well, breaking down opposition defences with precise and creative passing. He is also a leader.
City need him back.
On Saturday, Josh Murphy – a home-grown talent who possesses an abundance of desire and hunger – deserves an opportunity to start in an attacking trio with his brother Jacob and the innovative Wes Hoolahan. Alex Pritchard has showed signs of promise since arriving but was one of many players who so conspicuously gave up in Sussex at the weekend.
It wasn’t the first time he’d failed to turn up at Brighton.
Robbie Brady’s ego continues to inflate, with our Irish winger failing to add much to this City side this season. Brady often appears disinterested on the pitch, lacking the spirit, pace and determination of the hungry Murphy twins. He should remain on the bench for Leeds.
For Neil, the situation is salvageable. Although not evidencing it on the south coast, these players do care. If he believes there are a select few whom he has lost and are not fully committed to the cause, he must eradicate them from his plans. But, earlier wins away at Forest and Wolves clearly demonstrated a strong sense of team spirit and unity.
We can only hope what happened in Brighton was an anomaly. Neil must use this week to regroup, reconsider and reorganise his side, acting decisively in terms of personnel changes for the weekend.
He must galvanize City, re-instilling notions of hunger and desire into the players’ mentalities. He did it two years ago with the side he inherited. He is capable.
He must also address his defence. Ivo Pinto has been a significant miss in the last three games, leaving the less dynamic Russell Martin exposed at right-back. Should Pinto return for the visit of Leeds, Martin should shift inwards.
Whilst having received hostile criticism from many City fans – myself included – the ineptitude demonstrated by Ryan Bennett and Timm Klose at the Amex was profound, proving to us that the candid Martin is not our worst defender.
There is also a strong case for dropping Klose. Although his clever and often amusing employment of social media indicates he is clearly committed to City, the errors committed at the weekend were so poor. The head-banded Swiss international was largely at fault for Brighton’s final three goals, showing aerial weakness as well as lack of competence on the ball.
Dropping Klose would make an important statement, indicating that nobody in this squad has a guaranteed place. Bennett was not quite as poor but still showed vulnerability, resembling a hopeless dad making a Sunday league cameo at centre-back for Brighton’s fourth goal.
However, Klose’s errors were more ubiquitous – he also showed his fragility at home to Burton earlier on this season – and Bennett is a leader; a type of character that this side so badly needs.
As City continue to plummet faster than the value of the pound post-Brexit, Neil now faces his toughest days at Norwich City. He must ascertain which members of this squad are loyal to him, whilst purifying his side and eradicated any passengers that exist. They were pervasive on Saturday. Neil now has a duty to turn this around.
As fans, we can only hope that the events that unfolded down south were not symptomatic of a fundamental lack of character in this City side. They must learn from their apathy after going behind and unite to form a collective sense of desire to achieve success.
Neil has the ability to change things. The real test begins now.