For five glorious second-half minutes on Boxing Day, it felt like watching the Norwich City of old.
The increasingly clinical Nelson Oliviera had just ruthlessly converted an intelligent Jacob Murphy cut-back into the top corner. Our side were rallying at 1-1, attacking with the genuine verve and enterprise that used to so strikingly characterise an Alex Neil team.
The loyal 1486 of us that had made the festive trip to Berkshire fervently urged this struggling City side to search for a rare winner.
Once again, our efforts were futile.
Defensive ineptitude and vulnerability prevailed. City’s resurgence was short-lived, the termination of which once again derived from the failure of individuals to successfully conduct fundamental jobs and to take responsibility. It’s become something of a Comedy of Errors now.
Even Shakespeare would have been incapable of creating a character whose incompetence eclipsed this hapless City defending. As two free headers gifted the hosts two goals, the City faithful delineated their aversion vociferously, but this was no case of Much Ado About Nothing.
This is a club plummeting rapidly into Football League oblivion unless the obstinate board relinquish their perplexing obliviousness to the root of the problem.
Unity between the two sets of fans on Monday as ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ reverberated around was probably greater than that the fraternity in the current City dressing room, as the home fans mocked and the away punters protested.
A complete loss in faith towards Alex Neil now appears universal amongst the City faithful, a notion becoming increasingly palpable as each crushing Championship defeat passes by.
This slide seems unabating under the Scott. Neil’s weaknesses are manifold, but his inability to select City’s most efficacious team remains startling.
Despite weeks of alarming evidence, he persisted with the under-performing Robbie Brady at left-back and once again omitted the superior Martin Olsson. Wes Hoolahan did not feature again. Bizarre.
But defending remains his principal issue.
Some may argue that individual errors are not Neil’s fault but he is fundamentally the leader who picks his players. City once again conceded from set pieces, failing to take responsibility and win important headers in their own box.
Timm Klose may have endured an abysmal run of form culminating in his catastrophe on the south-coast, but his prolonged absence has now become a source of profound mystery for Norwich fans. Our Swiss defender needs to play.
This persistent defensive problem is more acute, however. Not one of our four centre-backs represents a reliable, solid and dependable defender. We have no Jamaal Lascelles, no Lewis Dunk, no defender who is capable or willing to apply themselves at this level to consistently keep clean sheets and thwart oppositions.
The problem was investment. Neil – inevitably fully aware of City’s significant defensive shortcomings – impetuously opted to invest in three midfielders whom he appears reluctant to deploy rather than two proven Championship defenders. Pritchard, Maddison and Canos have been neglected.
Money should have been spent more wisely. Neil’s team are paying the price.
In truth, however, the on-field issues are minor. It now appears City will enter the new calendar year still stuck in this feckless Neil epoch, an era characterised by regression and lack of development rather than improvement and progression. The board’s indelible faith towards this detrimental regime remains remarkable.
The use of the adjective ‘rotten’ has become somewhat ubiquitous on social media over the previous few weeks, but its employment to describe our beloved club is not misjudged.
We currently possess a board whose opinions are at odds with virtually the entire of our fan base’s, a manager who appears to miraculously be becoming more and more inept each week, and a set of players unable to defend nor apply pressure for a sustained period of time. These really are grim times.
City’s current position is staggering. It does not require a forensic nor assiduous analysis of our season to reach the conclusion that Neil is the wrong man to lead this club forward: at the half-way stage, we have picked up just five points from our eleven games against top half clubs. Relegation form.
Like a Marxist historian viewing the past through a series of cycles, City’s season would probably read something along the lines of good, excellent, blip, bad run, embarrassment, farce. That’s what we are currently dealing with. The situation has descended into a complete joke.
Fans care. Working at my local pub the day after my trip to Reading, I recognised a customer from the game the day before and inquired of his thoughts. It transpired that his frustration equalled mine, and he has not missed a single City match since April 1990. It was an astonishing statistic, but one that only served to contextualise just how much this football club means to supporters.
We really do care, Jez.
This relentless and increasingly comedic stalemate that is ensuing between Moxey and the fans (and which was further exacerbated by the in-house interview) is neither sustainable nor healthy. Our new Chief Executive’s ignorant obliviousness to Neil’s incompetence and his conspicuous lack of ambition is astonishing.
Forget ‘promotion’, a lot of us are more concerned about a far more terrifying prospect at this current moment in time.
Neil lacks tactical adeptness, pragmatism and flexibility, remaining strangely loyal to his ineffective 4-2-3-1 system like an old Labrador to his long-term owner.
The Scott’s substituting of City’s tenacious goalscorer in Oliviera has become something of a formality now, baffling fans and triggering poisonous scenes behind the goal on Monday. Cameron Jerome should really have been given the opportunity to link up with his Portuguese colleague. Pity.
With Neil now set to lead us to Brentford on New Year’s Eve, one final sting from the Bees in the capital would function as a fitting way to end what has been a truly painful year for City fans. Those – myself included – who have purchased a ticket will surely be questioning their sanity in attending a fixture where apathy, rather than hope, will characterise fans’ mentalities.
Any sense of optimism has become virtually impossible to muster.
If defeat on Saturday to see in the new year followed by further misery back at Carrow Road two days later does manifest itself, you would hope the fans’ backlash may well become too potent for this obdurate board to resist.
We want change. We need change. If not, I fear City may be confined to Football League mediocrity for years to come.