In isolation a narrow 1-0 defeat to a resurgent Derby would be disappointing. Nothing more. But when it comes off the back of five consecutive defeats the d word doesn’t really cover it.
Not for the first time Alex Neil desperately needed his players to put in a performance that would yield points. A performance that would take the heat off. Something to, temporarily at least, to quell the unrest.
But they failed to deliver. Again.
In terms of performance alone it’s clear the first half revealed an improvement – there certainly appeared an essence of desire and grit – but in the greater scheme of things we’re talking small pickings. And have we really slumped to a level of being grateful for first-half clean sheets and thankful to our chosen XI for putting in a proper shift?
If we have – and that’s seems to be where we are – then something is little awry.
But, in terms of improving from a fairly low base, I guess that’s how poor form is turned around and so if said solid first half was followed by an equally solid second then perhaps there would have been grounds for (very) cautious optimism. But it wasn’t and if there is then I’m not feeling it.
And Alex’s eloquent post-match mitigation sounded little more than a long list of excuses.
While it’s clear the rub of the green is anything but green (and yellow) right now there is something increasingly hollow and flimsy about the words that follow the latest demise; Seb Bassong too doing little to warm the cockles with his laid-back perception of events.
Yet part of me actually felt sorry for both. How do you find the words, or at least some different words, to explain away another sorry afternoon of zilch.
Alex was bullish, and clearly finds himself increasingly at odds with those who interview him and write about him, but until that fire in the belly starts translating into points on the board then the difficult questions will continue.
[As an aside – if he thinks this is ‘heat’ then he should have tried being in Chris Hughton’s shoes in the spring of 2014.]
But, like it or loathe it, it’s hard to see there being any changes made to Team Neil any time soon and we can throw as many toys out of the pram as we like, write what we like, tweet what we like, and phone in and say what we like – the lady (and her husband) appears not for turning and neither does the manager.
So, for now, we’d all best suck it up and act like grown ups.
But, and I’ll not be thanked in some quarters for saying this, there feels something just a bit rotten about this club right now; something that runs deeper than Neil being unable to get a tune out of dressing room full of under-performers.
From top to bottom it feels staid and in desperate need of a shake-up. David McNally’s seven-year plan was initially derided but boy did it focus the minds and to have achieved it and some, albeit with there being more than a few scalps along the way, justified its place on the boardroom table.
When asked of the current plan at the AGM new CEO, Jez Moxey said only, “promotion, promotion, promotion”, without elaborating on how it was to be achieved. Perhaps he like to put some meat on that particular bone and expand on the plan that will lead us to said glory.
Just an outline would be good. I’d hate to think they are ‘playing it by ear’.
Yet there was little to emerge from the aforementioned AGM that offered comfort or inspired confidence. Of course there were formalities to be undergone and unwritten rules to be obeyed – like the board unifying behind a beleaguered manager – but if all the wrongs of the current recruitment process are to be righted by offering Ricky Martin yet another promotion then forgive me for being a tad underwhelmed.
Because slap, bang in the current malaise is an ongoing failure to recruit competently. That yesterday’s starting XI included seven players aged 30 or above, and was added to by Kyle Lafferty and Steven Whittaker, is a question mark all of its own. So too that the back-four (five if you include John Ruddy) that played yesterday has evolved so little over four seasons.
Moxey, of course, can’t yet be blamed for the failure to bring in players of a suitable ilk and the back end of McNally’s reign will be remembered for two truly horrible transfer windows but the failure of the club’s transfer policy over the last three seasons – if indeed there even is one – has truly come home to roost.
Yet, ironically, it was a player that Alex Neil allowed to depart who stole the headlines yesterday.
Is there ever going to be an end to the Bradley Johnson love-in?
Perhaps it speaks volumes of our need of a hero right now but seldom can I recall a player with such limitations being showered with such undiluted adoration. ‘Legend’ was used freely on Twitter, Canary Call and beyond to describe one who, admittedly, had the season of his life in 2014/15 but who prior to that had had a distinctly average City career, particularly when plonked in the centre of midfield.
That he would score the winner yesterday was almost a given but to me the decision by Alex Neil to allow him to leave when the Premier League awaited was the right one. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not even convinced Sir Bradley, with all his energy and “passion” would have been able to stir this current crop from its slumbers.
But I look forward to the unveiling of the statue nonetheless.
So, another miserable one and a tricky one against Brentford to come; the equivalent fixture of which in 2015 gave Alex his first taste of a grumpy Carrow Road.
A repeat next Saturday and ‘grumpy’ won’t even come close.