To misquote the late Graham Taylor: did I not like that.
Most of the games I’ve seen this season have been at home; Hillsborough was my first away game since the autumn.
Some might say that explains how I was able to maintain hope for so long. They may be right; certainly, Hillsborough forced me to drink the full bitter measure of bile.
Whether the performance was worse or not, this was a bigger and more significant disappointment than Rotherham, Burton and the rest. The season was on the line this time; surely the team had ringing in their ears the kind of message Will Jennings posted here on Friday.
Hillsborough was time to put the underachievement behind us; to step up to the plate; to fulfil our potential; to deliver.
You wouldn’t have known it. I’ll exempt Jerome and Wes, who worked tirelessly, from criticism. But otherwise it looked like a team, and spoke of a club, that’s lost its way.
I talked to a number of Wednesday fans on the tram back into Sheffield city centre. They didn’t mean to be hurtful – quite the opposite – but the truth of their comments cut to the quick. As one said: “We didn’t really think we’d win today. We certainly didn’t think it would be so easy”
Regular readers will know two things about me. I’m normally loath to read too much into one game; and I question some of the expectations that fans have about our club and team.
However, Hillsborough was an exception. By the players’ and manager’s own words, it was a make-or-break game. Judged by their own standards, not anyone else’s, it was woeful.
Whatever big-picture things we expect from our club, Saturday was a day to expect heart and determination on the pitch, expressed in things like clearing our lines and challenging for balls coming into our box. That’s to say, things we failed to do for three Sheffield Wednesday goals in the first 41 minutes.
My MFW nemesis Dave B asked me last week to reassess whether his negative view should be called pessimism or realism. I promised to ponder the question on the journey back from Hillsborough. Sadly, it didn’t take long.
Mathematically, we’re not quite at the point where I said I’d give up on the play-offs – ie a point behind for every game left – but I can no longer justify the possibility of optimism.
We’ve produced good performances since Christmas, but Saturday told us there’s a key factor missing. Fulham may have the belief and togetherness that it takes to mount a challenge for the playoffs, but our group of management and players don’t.
The Board has some tough and deep questions to ask itself. I’ve still no doubt about their emotional commitment to Norwich City. But can they bring the objective and dispassionate analysis to our situation that David McNally brought to the (much worse) one in 2009?
Undoubtedly the issues go further than the manager. But who can deny the manager is a significant part of the problem? Mathematically we can still make the play-offs, but under the current arrangements there’s no chance of the sustained form it would take.
My (perhaps belated) call for Alex Neil to be sacked in December wasn’t answered. If we were keeping AN through January, it didn’t seem logical to release him in February or March. But the logic has now changed; if the playoffs are out of reach, then the more time we have without him the better.
While I’m clear on that one, it should be recognised that many of challenges aren’t as straightforward as some would have us believe. The total lack of consensus among fans about who should replace Alex Neil (Rowett? Warburton? Hodgson? Culverhouse?) is an indication of that.
An even bigger challenge, perhaps, is the playing squad. Expecting us to be in the leading group for promotion this year, it was reasonable to keep and recruit some players who are Premier League class. But they’re not necessarily the players to get us there. I’ve no idea how Lewis Dunk would fare in the Premier League, but for sure he’d have been more effective for us this season than Timm Klose.
A number of expensive but surplus players will leave this summer as their contracts expire. Some more – I’d guess including Timm Klose – will be sold. What kind of players should replace them? How will we achieve the balance of youth and experience that tends to characterize the most successful teams?
For one more season we’ll have a financial advantage over most of the Championship. But we have to make it count. We simply cannot have another year of underachievement.
Delia (and colleagues): Sort it out.
Eddie Monk says
What can we, as supporters do to force some kind of reaction at board level? Since the pathetic “interview” of Moxey on Canary state video, sweet FA has been forthcoming from a lady who, in football parlance, is nearly as famous for her pitch side rant as for her cooking. Well it’s our turn to rant at her now but how on earth do you penetrate the wall of obstinancy that surrounds our club at board level? An abject performance from City tonight will result in, I hesitate to say, a toxic atmosphere for the next home game. I hesitated because we all know that apart from the one or two vocal areas of the ground, the rest will stay silent, shrug their shoulders and say, “oh well things could be worse, good old Delia, she saved us you know.” It’s just all too cosy. That’s what’s frustrating.
Gary Field says
The financial advantage to which you refer may, in reality, be no such thing. The combinations of a hefty wage bill – even after summer departures – and transfer fees outstanding, may mean that there’s still a financial hole to fill.
Stewart Lewis says
Gary #2: Quite right, of course. It’s only an advantage if we can control the wage bill more effectively than we did this year.
Yesterdays press conference was desperate as it was embarrassing and I kept thinking that Neil is now looking totally ridiculous.
However, it is the board that is the problem and with no new CEO coming to challenge them (Stone will get a MD role) then it will be more of the same.
The club can make a decent money in the summer by clearing the dead wood and will still get some parachute money – though that isn’t everything – but would you trust this lot to spend it well and wisely? There is no evidence that will happen.
Peter C says
Stewart, my concern is that the current board does not have the ability to sort this out. In my view it is as weak as it was back in 2009 when we were relegated to the 3rd tier. You will say that Delia and Michael brought in the right people in 2009 but the circumstances were different then. The Club’s finances were dire with the bank close to pulling the plug – in those circumstances the bank would have carefully overseen the board’s direction and held them to account. In the last year we have lost key personnel with inadequate replacements. We have seen the board fail to find and appoint a suitable CEO, resulting in the post becoming vacant again within a few months. And it was under the watch of our FD (stand – in CEO) that due to a complete lack of diligence a fairly high profile sponsorship failed within a matter of weeks. In the meantime AN continues, inadequately supervised and challenged, to make his mistakes.
There are signs that this board, with no one calling them to account this time, is unfit for purpose. If I had a substantial financial investment in this business I would not want it run by this board. I just hope that Michael and Delia as owners come to the same conclusion, quickly!
Stewart Lewis says
Peter C #5: Not for the first time: I wish I could disagree with you, but the evidence isn’t good.
martin penney says
#5 Peter C: #6 Stewart: I agree with you both.
I feel that what happens on the pitch tonight is largely irrelevant, and that’s a sad mindset to be in.
There’s also the N&P situation, which will hardly help NCFC.
Peter’s best point is that there is literally nobody to hold the Board to account.
Gary Field says
#4 Darren, it seems to be a widely held presumption that because we have parachute payments we’ll be alright. The reality is often different.
Some of the”deadwood” – I dislike that word – will be out of contract this summer.
Other players, those which can attract a decent fee, may decide that they see their futures elsewhere.
That still leaves a significant number under contract and, as we were told last summer and January, many are on relatively good wages by Championship standards.
Despite the parachute payments,there may still be a big financial hole to plug.
Has it occurred to anyone that the club doesn’t actually want promotion? Nonsensical on the surface, but there is no evidence to suggest otherwise as if the board were in any way serious about their EPOL ambitions, AN would of been gone long ago.
I’ve often thought the club just can’t handle the EPL as they get found wanting, so maybe turning NCFC into a comfortable – some might say tin-pot – parochial football club suits the Smiths down to a tee.
We didn’t put up with under Chase, so why Delia & Co?
If our owners were from the subcontinent and called Venky the chorus of dissent from our fanbase would be deafening. The similarities between the situation at Blackburn during the Steve Kean saga and what is happening at Norwich are startling.
The saccharin sweet hero worship engendered by the cook and her family is in stark contrast to the damage she continually does Norwich city with her involvement.
That many people are now starting to realise this and point the finger in her direction is both welcome and long overdue.
Dave H says
Chris (10) you may remember we disagreed about ownership at the beginning of the season (I think it was soon after the Birmingham game or after the Newcastle match) While I wouldn’t class myself in the hero worship category, I came to the realisation before Xmas that you were right & that there is something fundamentally wrong at the club. So much so, it’s almost pointless in sacking Neil as I doubt it will have any impact.
Hello Dave, yes I do recall it! Respect is due to you for weighing up the mounting evidence and drawing a different conclusion. How I wish it was myself altering my opinion and we were storming to the top flight, courtesy of a board inspired master plan.