On Friday, in his pre-Barnsley presser, Alex Neil spoke of the need to go to places like Oakwell with a desire to battle, fight and compete.
And then picked a team that included both Murphys and Alex Pritchard.
He followed that up, post-match, by suggesting he’d have been slaughtered if he’d changed the side that performed so well against Brentford, alluding to the fact his team selection had been made with one eye on the fallout if it were to go belly up.
As it transpired it went belly up anyway but the fact his only forced change from last Saturday was to add Josh Murphy to the starting XI – one who for all his qualities isn’t noted for his physical strength and ability to dig in – suggests that his thinking is now anything but crystal clear.
As has been rightly pointed out by others, between 14:00 and 15:00 yesterday there appeared few complaints, many citing the attacking potential of a line-up that included “two of our own”, but against the backdrop of the ‘fight and compete’ battle-cry a closer examination revealed a midfield light in those qualities.
That Barnsley “bullied us” – another troubling admission – in that horror show of a first-half came as no surprise.
Yet it’d be unfair to lay the blame at the door of the three aforementioned young players when around them were some vastly experienced pros who should have needed no reminding that a December afternoon in South Yorkshire is the Championship equivalent to the Premier League’s ‘cold, wet, Tuesday night in Stoke’.
But still it was a first-half that, while not quite plummeting the depths of the Amex, had St Andrew’s, Loftus Road and Pride Park stamped all over it. More of the same. Same old. History repeating itself.
We naturally hoped the 5-0 against a limited Brentford was the signal for this group to unite, put a truly rotten November behind them and kick on but yesterday’s first period was a short, sharp, ugly reminder that they need no excuse whatsoever to take their foot off the pedal.
In the heat of battle many were found wanting… yet again.
The second half was obviously better; there was more desire – the result no doubt of a half-time rocket – and the shape and personnel were changed to something that actually appeared fit for purpose, but the damage was done.
And even buoyed by Nelson Oliveira’s thumping strike they collectively still didn’t possess the wherewithal to salvage something from another grim afternoon.
Two games in the space of four days this week – both at home and starting with Aston Villa on Tuesday night – offer a quick shot at redemption, and I’m convinced City will win at least one, but at what point does this troubling run of results, punctuated by the odd win, get treated with more than an ‘it’ll come good’ shrug?
Because that’s the signal I’m getting from the decision makers.
Yet everything we’ve witnessed since the draw at Craven Cottage, last Saturday aside, screams that by ploughing this same, increasingly lone, furrow it just isn’t going to come good.
The mix of a manager who has lost his way, identity, mojo [delete as appropriate], who is picking his team with one eye on the fans’ reaction to it and a bunch of players who, while not without technical gifts, only perform when the track is flat, not spinning, and has even bounce, is toxic in the extreme.
Add to that equation a board who collectively, from the outside looking in, appear unwilling to veer from the current unedifying path and we have a stalemate.
Inertia when we crave momentum.
If, as mentioned above, the players find it within themselves to conjure up a win over Villa or Huddersfield, or even maybe both, the joy will be temporarily rekindled but yesterday was a stark reminder of this group’s extreme fragility.
And so, even if they do get a win, how long before the next heart-breaking reversal on the road?
In this division heart is king, technique a distant second, but under the auspices of a manager who appears unable to consistently instil belief and who is struggling tactically to get it right often enough, it’s hard to imagine the away form improving to a level needed to go up the table.
Seven defeats in eight games and without an away win since October 1 would be P45 territory for most managers, particularly with the medium term future of the club hinging on promotion, yet as the automatic promotion places painfully disappear into the distance we appear to be ploughing on in the hope that Brentford was a sign.
And I genuinely wish it was. I wish too that I still believed in Team Neil and in their ability to turn this situation around – but the evidence suggests otherwise.
I’d be happy of course to be proved wrong and to have to admit further down the line that Delia, Michael and co were right to sit tight and wait for the storm to blow over but if right now it was a straightforward game of pros and cons there would be only one outcome.
There’s too much at stake here to rely on crossed fingers and Father Christmas.