My friends up in Durham often ask me what it’s like to be a Norwich fan. My football-adoring, top-four supporting friends, who will never be able to relate to the turbulence, unpredictability and all-too-frequent disillusionment of following a team like City home and away.
My exit from the cross-country train service that took me back up north on Saturday evening was greeted with serenades of ‘bottle jobs’, ‘Leedstanbul’ and ‘that’s why you’re staying down’. I wasn’t laughing.
I’ve always struggled to summarise my experiences of supporting City on the road to them. Defensive vulnerability, laboured and lateral spells in possession and profligacy with the few chances created often constitute the basis of my post-match inquest, but verbal explanation may as well now function as futile.
Indeed, as of Sunday morning, a simple YouTube search of ‘Leeds 3-3 Norwich’ is all a non-City supporter needs to do in order to gain an insight into our team’s serial and seemingly irreparable shortcomings this season.
At 3:45 on Saturday the travelling members of the Yellow Army who’d travelled up the A1 were in dreamland. For 45 glorious first-half minutes, the City away from home we’ve become all too miserably accustomed too had miraculously managed to emulate that scintillating rhythm witnessed 170 miles south-east against the likes of Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Reading.
It really was a treat.
The often divisive Steven Naismith was superb, playing with sustained energy and vivacity with the ball while relentlessly harrying Leeds’ overrun midfielders like a terrier off it. Owing to his occasional lack of innovation going forward, Naismith’s significance when City do not have possession has gone increasingly unnoticed this season.
He deserved his spectacular strike. He must be at Carrow Road next season.
The blossoming Nelson Oliviera continued to impress in his debut season in his namesake’s county, making runs, creating space and finishing twice with unerring confidence. Despite Cameron Jerome’s laudable indefatigability, City look so much more aesthetic with his Portuguese counterpart’s presence up front. Like in 1798 and 1805, Nelson’s role next season will be crucial for success.
But that elation, jubilance and rare sense of joy for City away from home this season was rapidly suppressed. One aerial ball and some defensive dithering later, Leeds’ arrears had been reduced. With it came a simultaneous shift in momentum, atmosphere and the complexion of Garry Monk’s half-time sentiments.
It proved fatal.
This was nothing new from City, nothing unexpected and not something the travelling contingent in the John Charles upper were unfamiliar with. That sense of looming inevitability concerning a late defensive disintegration has become naturalised in our mentalities this season, all too aware of our team’s fundamental inability to maintain a lead nor score goals when confronted with a raucous environment away from home.
The noise reverberating around Elland Road throughout that second half was deafening, willing the likes of Chris Wood, Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe on to tenuously maintain some form of lingering play-off hope. In the face of adversity, City failed to pass their test of resolve.
Such a pulsating affair only served to provide further testimony for the necessity for change. City need leaders, responsibility-takers, players with a point to prove, not this collection of ageing second-tier underachievers. The squad is ubiquitous with players who unequivocally lack the hunger, desire nor motivation to succeed, instead remaining content to dwindle in the Championship until their contract expires.
Stuart Webber knows it. We must trust him to deliver.
This radical period of transition may remain in its early stages, but the signals being emitted from the club are positive. Stewart Lewis’ two interviews with the new men tasked with getting this club back on track proved both refreshing and insightful, surely instilling fans with a common sense of optimism for the summer and next season.
Managing Director Steve Stone conveys a principled, dignified and dependable persona, while Webber undoubtedly possesses the requisite ruthlessness, shrewdness and long-termism to turn this club around.
So the future looks bright. While this new structure’s formative stages have appeared modernising and progressive, the appointment of an adept Head Coach with the potential to work with and unite a probable set of drastically different players is crucial. With the club’s new admirable stance on communication and dissemination, a rational justification for Alan Irvine’s successor is anticipated.
Now we wait.
What City have so conspicuously lacked this season is second-tier scrappers; young and hungry players with something to prove and who are desperate to succeed. Although the effervescent Alex Pritchard has embodied the type of figure who the new man in charge must build around, a significant proportion of his teammates have come up short.
City’s failure has been less the product of individual ability as it has been psychological limitations. The older members of the squad palpably lack the hunger to succeed. This combined with a relentless mental fragility away from Carrow Road has made for an unpleasant fusion. Change is required.
In many respects we are lucky. Despite this term’s travails, the new structure and the men in positions of power appear bold, passionate and savvy. The evidence for a summer of transition has become overwhelming.
The foundations are there, and collectively we must trust the rejuvenated hierarchy to deliver, the first salvo of which was fired yesterday when seven players, including John Ruddy, Steven Whittaker and Ryan Bennett, were told their futures lie away from the Fine City.
The building begins now.
Gary Field says
Interesting thoughts Will.
You mention the need to retain both Pritchard and Naismith; which begs the question of how many No 10’s do we need, given we also have Wes and Maddison in the building?
Stewart Lewis says
A fine article – not least some memorable phrases like “serial and seemingly irreparable shortcomings”.
Gary #1: Good point, with two riders. First, I don’t see Steven Naismith as a No 10 in the mould of Wes or Pritchard; although we’re best when we play with flexibility, he’s really one of the wide players in the three supporting the striker. Second, Wes. One of the big calls for the summer, but I’m not sure we’ll see him still at Carrow Road next year.
martin penney says
#1 Gary: according to the Daily Record, we will soon have Naismith out of the No 10 equation.
They quote he’s on £50k a week – mind-boggling, and doubtless unsettling for some of the other squad members should it be true…
Excellent article Will.
If Naismith is really on the wages I have seen mentioned then he is not worth it and that money could be put to better use (if he could ever be sold).
There is no doubt we will be losing a lot of experience this summer – not that it did us much good last season. Bennett is the only one I might have kept – though I don’t know his salary – because with a decent coach and better performing players around him he has shown that he can be a good player.
Cyprus canary says
#2 Stewart I believe it is time for Wes to move over and allow Pritchard and Maddison the space to develop and rumours of the impending departure of Naismith will cause no sleepless nights for me. However, this does mean we must employ a coach who will develop the young players not impede their progress as AN has done. Interesting times.
Roger Cole says
#4 pab I agree with both your opinions. Naismith luckily red carded so can’t get injured now 😉 I wonder what to do with Jarvis and Wildschut. The former is likely soon out of contract, the latter not so. I wonder if it occurs to our coaching staff to redeploy them at wing back, as seen successfully with Moses, Valencia and others in the PL. Just a thought in case there is no Dijks deal to provide cover and competition at full back, where we are light on both sides.
I for one will be disappointed if Naismith leaves. OK he is on a big wage, but that’s what players of his pedigree cost. I’m convinced that next season he can be a real leader for the new refreshed NCFC. And as others have noted, it is Wes who is in the way, not he.
Stewart Lewis says
Cyprus canary #5: Yes, crucial that the new Head Coach has an aptitude and desire for developing young players. A point Stuart Webber made forcefully to me.
SW will have identified a number of new players as targets for next season. He will wait for the play off’s to be decided but expect some of those currently plying their trade with Yorkshire teams in the Championship to make their way to Norfolk in the summer.The big earners will go as SW gets that whole ‘togetherness’ factor that is vital, nothing like massive salary differences at Championship level to create unrest.
Together with those already named, Wes is coming up 35, Tettey 31, Naismith 30 so adios amigos to make way for fresh, hungry players, angry and upset they’ve missed out this time around as Fulham do us a big favour and win promotion to remove our banana skin!
As fans it’s good to have our mojo back!
Alex B says
Just read that the Sun has put out we are about to give John Howson a free transfer can anyone clear this up it would be a big shock for him to depart for a fee never mind a free transfers.
Leeds fan will be laughing their heads off if he goes back home for no fee.
Stewart Lewis says
Alex B #10: Not a chance. Not. A. Chance.
Alex B says
Lets hope he is captain next season