That 2016 should end in disappointment for the Canaries was entirely appropriate. That it should end with City having done enough to win a game yet still fail to do so was equally apt. So too that it was all conveniently wrapped up in an element of disaster.
In fairness, for once the disastrous element was not entirely of City’s own making, and the decision by Oliver Langford to send off Robbie Brady for something that looked not much more than a beefy 50/50 challenge was symptomatic of the club’s current fortunes.
‘Harsh’ was how Alex described it. He was being nice.
As a result of the sending off the tabloid narrative will be around ’10-man Norwich’ but this was no heroic, backs to the wall display of defiance. This was another gift horse that was spurned. The latest in a very long line.
2016 has has been rotten, abject and soul-less. And while yesterday’s sortie to Griffin Park didn’t plummet the depths of some of the away-day disasters it also did little to alter the view that Team Neil is ill-equipped to take this team and this club forward.
The half-hearted applause and haunted expressions of Delia, Michael and Jez Moxey at the end of the game suggested that they may too be of a similar belief yet are are curtailed in making any tough decisions by matters ‘more complex’; matters that, courtesy of Charlie Wyett’s piece, appear financial.
So, if finances are as we are now led to believe, we have a beleaguered manager who knows the ice he’s skating on is wafer thin, knows that the club don’t have the ready cash to pay him off, yet is aware the odds of him being here for the medium term are reducing with every non-victory.
Aka an unholy mess.
But credit where it’s due – Alex, for all his perceived faults, is a fighter and given the enormous pressure he is under continues to handle himself with dignity, particularly in the face of increasing hostility.
And credit too for finally seeing fit to relinquish his trusted but flawed 4-2-3-1 in favour of what should have been a more fluid 3-5-2, albeit in true Norwich City fashion we proceed to make a formation that is designed to offer freedom and flexibility into one that still looks rigid and without cohesion.
Yet on this occasion his decision to bring Russell Martin and Timm Klose in from the cold was a justified one, even if it smacked of Klose joining Robbie Brady on his farewell tour.
But the general consensus for some time has been that Alex needs to tear himself away from the 4-2-3-1 and he did just that. And in doing so we didn’t lose, and even kept a clean sheet, so if we’re scrambling around for crumbs of comfort there were a few.
Of course the problems of old persist and the inability to take chances in front of goal, which have been there since that opening day Premier League defeat by Crystal Palace, returned to throw another upper cut to the solar plexus.
Cameron Jerome, not for the first team, took centre stage with a couple of horror misses but for the record Jacob Murphy too, with almost his first touch, missed one that was also on the cusp of ‘sitter’ territory.
And this failure in front of goal is systematic – one that simply won’t go away – as is the the ability to defend solidly on a consistent basis; the two core principles of football, neither of which have been achieved to anything like an appropriate level across the whole of 2016.
On this occasion the opposition were simply not good enough to make City pay for their profligacy and that we emerged with a draw and not a defeat shouldn’t be misconstrued as a sign that a belated and probably temporary change to 3-5-2 could signal the start of a renaissance.
This club needs to change from top to bottom – a root and branch reform as described in Robin Sainty’s excellent EDP piece – but it has to start somewhere and it has to start where the ‘quick wins’ can be achieved: the manager.
The incredulity over the reported £2m pay-off for Neil, which would no doubt have to be extended to some of his lieutenants in the coaching set-up, was understandable but only in the regard of it being most odd to reward a manager who had just overseen a relegation.
But Alex’s stock was still high in the summer and with the loss of David McNally and Alan Bowkett, under whose watch the Scot arrived, the club was looking for some stability. With the benefit of hindsight that thinking was flawed, but only with the benefit of hindsight.
That any pay-off would stretch to seven figures was no surprise, regardless of its derivation. We are, after all, still in grip of Premier League finances, at least for the time being.
But while they appear seven figures that the club is unable to lay its hands on right now, I’d suggest that to not find them from somewhere, or someone, could potentially cost this club significantly more than £2m. Massively more in fact, and even risk its very being.
It’s something I find myself writing every week, but this club is teetering on the brink right now – in more than one sense – and the only way things are going to not slide further, at least in the short-term, is to win games of football.
And to do that needs bravery, not inaction, from the Board
The club’s record in 2016 reads: won 16, drawn 6, lost 25. Recently they have lost 8 in 11. The finances appear perilous. The fans are angry. The mood is ugly.
2017 can only get better. Can’t it?
Happy New Year.