If the club is yet to reach the realms of a full-blown crisis, we’re most definitely in the midst of a bloody muddle.
What we were served up yesterday was football you expect from Championship perennials; those who have cobbled together a team of journeymen and freebies, and who will win a few, lose a few and bob along mid-table; the play-offs but a distant dream.
And in two years time that could be us – unless something changes.
The performance over 97 minutes was very ordinary but to then concede the sucker-punch of an injury time winner felt less sucker, more full-blooded.
And yet before a ball had even been kicked those of us with dreams of City dining at the top table had already suffered a sharp dig in the ribs.
Henry Winter’s interview in The Times with Delia and Michael, nicely written and intriguing as it was, was for many perhaps a little too revealing.
It portrayed their view on football and the progression of this football club as diametrically opposed to those who feel the only real option to advance in the modern game is to embrace it – however painful that may be. To fight against the cash-driven, cash-laden monster it has become seems futile, yet Michael and Delia appear determined to do so.
Jez Moxey too confirmed, in an interview with Radio Norfolk, that foreign investment is not even a consideration and so we find ourselves with the future prospect of the reins being handed to Tom Smith, Delia’s nephew. A lovely chap I’m sure, but one to lead us to the next financial level?
And while Delia and Michael remain: “We can’t on one hand [protest] that football’s being run from Dubai and Wall Street and then give into it.”
So, nothing doing here, like it or lump it – which is of course their prerogative.
And, for now at least, that’s not an issue. For the time being (for the next 19 months in fact) we retain a financial advantage over the majority of the Championship, although we will be joined next August by the three PL ‘relegatees’ from 2016/17.
[All of that of course assumes we won’t be achieving promotion this season, which… well…]
But the point here is we are slap bang in a window of opportunity that simply has to be seized. The parachute payments will be gone before we know it and to not squeeze every last drop out of them could well, as one Canary-Caller put it, ‘see us become the next Ipswich Town”. No-one wants that.
And which is why the current slide has to be arrested, whatever it takes.
Delia and Michael speak very highly of Alex Neil in The Times’ piece and few of us would argue against her assertion that he’s an intelligent man who was ‘devastated’ after the 5-0 drubbing at the Amex. But weren’t we all, and for us there is not a single thing we can do about it.
The Alex Neil of the 2015 play-offs I wouldn’t have swapped for anyone; even the Alex Neil pre-St James’ Park 2015 was right up there; but the man we see attempting to explain away the latest disappointment appears one made of very different stuff.
The 2015 iteration stood by his footballing beliefs, trusted his footballing instincts implicitly and could problem solve. The current version is wavering big time on the first two and is most definitely struggling with the third.
And then of course there’s a fractured, disheartened, disaffected dressing room to contend with; something he’s unlikely to have encountered before in his relatively short managerial career.
It’s clearly something that was never an issue at Hamilton; he was universally revered in his fist six months here; and even in the Premier League a failure to survive was mitigated by the size of his budget and the quality of his squad, and the players appeared supportive of him.
But now the cracks are showing and, in some cases, are threatening to explode into chasms.
Under the new Wolves manager we excelled by having a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. Right now, a team that’s precisely the sum of its parts should, and probably would, be good enough, but it’s not – and as a collective we’re clearly the antithesis of the former.
Yet the collective deficiency ultimately boils down to individuals and under-performance is something endemic throughout the squad.
Michael McGovern appears a shadow of the keeper that single-handedly kept the Germans at bay in the Parc des Princes; Robbie Brady a shadow of his Euro 2016 self; Timm Klose flounders where once he cruised; Alex Pritchard is almost unrecognisable from the player that tormented us in the red and white of Brentford; and Wes too has done little since that virtuoso performance against Rotherham.
The list goes on. And questions linger over the ability of those off the pitch to influence those on it, and whether Team Neil can reinvigorate and inspire those players to perform to a level that equates to wins and good performances.
At the moment there’s a rigidity and lethargy about the group that becomes all too obvious when faced with opposition who are fluid and dynamic. The passing becomes laboured, the movement barely existent, the minds clouded with doubt and the overall approach staid.
The upshot is a Preston, or a Leeds – the single highlight of which was a tremendous and heart-warming Championship debut from Louis Thompson.
So what now?
Well, more of the same simply won’t suffice. The board’s unequivocal backing of Neil needs realigning against the aforementioned window of opportunity, which will be gone in a flash.
We’re currently in the game of salvaging rather than building and they should ask themselves if there’s anyone out there better equipped to seize the current short-term opportunity.
And if the answer is yes…