Last Saturday’s win over Reading was tricky to categorise. Adjectives aplenty were thrown at it but ultimately most concluded it was a joyous one-off – one that was to be savoured for precisely what it was: a once in a life-time afternoon.
Yesterday’s dismal showing was rather easier to define: a regulation defeat that epitomised in 97 agonising minutes exactly why City’s finest are going to finish the season dreaming of the beach rather than a return to the Premier League.
And let’s be clear – the Canaries didn’t lose yesterday because Andy Madley was weak/”not fit to referee”/a “joke” [delete as appropriate] or because Fulham took professionalism and the rule-book to the extreme. They lost because, not for the first time this season, when faced with opponents of purpose, rhythm and dynamism they were found badly lacking in all three.
(For what it’s worth, I thought Madley did a decent job; my only real gripe being the time it took him to crack down on Fulham’s time-wasting – which he eventually did).
The sideshow that was Fulham’s histrionics and the ensuing wrath (mine included) shouldn’t disguise a performance level that had ‘Norwich City 2016/17’ stamped right through it and if last Saturday was magical and a bit surreal, yesterday was turgid and a bit crap.
And that’s generally been the story when City play sides above them in the table at home – and when they play anyone away.
As it transpires, Reading were seemingly sent by the footballing gods to put 26,000 smiles on 26,000 faces by way of an apology for a season that has frustrated and angered infinitely more than it has thrilled.
The key difference of course was that Fulham’s season is still very much alive whereas the Royals were simply biding time before they embark on their play-off adventure. And it showed.
Like Huddersfield before them, yesterday’s visitors were everything we would like to be but are not. And we return to those three words: purpose, rhythm and dynamism.
Understandably the talk now is of looking forward and not back – particularly with a new regime in the house that is just starting to bare its teeth – but lessons must be learned as we turn over this new page.
From a defensive perspective City have only been consistent in making the same mistakes over and over again, regardless of which permutation of defenders the manager chooses, and never again must we have a team based on what can be produced by the attacking and middle thirds at the expense of a rock solid base.
That solid base hasn’t been there for several seasons. Any success has been borne of flicks, tricks and fairy dust.
But Webber knows this. We all do. And, as modern and innovative as this brave new world currently appears, the old, boring adage of building a team from the back must, and will, form the cornerstone of the new head coach’s brief.
If we reach this stage next season having conceded 65 goals then questions will most certainly be asked. (They won’t because we won’t).
To pore over horrible, sloppy defensive errors is now futile – they’ll occur again before this season comes to a sorry close – but so too is to bemoan a lack of intensity that makes us a joy to play against.
The ponderous sideways passing, the hesitancy when in possession, the poor decision-making and the general lack of oomph – all symptoms of a misfiring collection of individuals who I hesitate to call a team.
Again, while unpleasant to look back on, these are unholy traits, unbecoming of those looking for a way out of the Championship, and are to be avoided at all costs if next season is to be an improvement on this one.
Too many individuals within the current group are able to excel when the planets are aligned and the going is good but lack the wherewithal to impact on a game when the chips are down.
The stats bear this out too with their ability to come back from a losing position almost non-existent. And it’s another unhealthy trait that runs right through the squad, with few exceptions.
But things are about to change.
As things stand our whole kingdom, and future for that matter, is in the hands of one man. A 33 year-old with no experience of playing professional football but one who, armed with an impressive CV, has been handed the task of producing a silk purse out of something that yesterday resembled a pig’s ear.
And as things stand we have to trust him implicitly to deliver. But it’s a massive weight to be placed on the shoulders of one individual. We are trusting him to axe those that need to be axed, to bring in people who are better than those who depart, and to deliver us a footballing operation that is almost the antithesis of the one that currently exists.
Fortunately the early signs are good but they’re only signs. And it’s an undoubtedly big ask of someone we’re expecting to hire and fire with the ease of Lord Sugar, to produce much magic like David Blaine and to innovate like Richard Branson.
If Webber fails to deliver the whole caboodle collapses, or at the very least we end up being Championship also-rans. That’s how it feels – and I can’t pretend to feel totally comfortable with all of our eggs being in that one fragile basket.
But now’s not the time for negative thoughts. Positivity has to be the byword and everything that’s occurred behind the scenes in the last week suggests there is some forward momentum to build on. So I’ll shut up.
If only 2016/17 would just hurry up and end.