Not for the first time, I need to choose my words carefully.
I took an online kicking during yesterday’s game for suggesting that minute 43 was too early to unfurl the #SmithOut banners.
My poorly made point was that we could yet go on and win the game and the landscape would shift but was told, in no uncertain terms, that it wasn’t about 43 minutes or two-and-a-half games – it was about ten months.
Ten months in which any minor improvements have been tricky to spot and, if indeed there have been any, have been smothered and vastly outnumbered by things that have gone wrong.
In fact, we can go back to those joyous scenes outside the City Stand in May 2021 when we celebrated winning the title. With Emi jigging in the road and Oliver Skipp waving a celebratory crutch in the air, everything in Norwich City world felt perfect, but since then barely a thing has gone right.
Sixteen months devoid of joy.
So I do get the frustration. I feel it too.
This is a football club that’s forgotten how to win. A team that labours, and plays without freedom; one laden with doubt and fear.
So fragile is the confidence, the merest of setbacks can visibly impact the belief in the group and conceding a goal, especially one that puts the opposition ahead, feels like an almost-terminal hammer blow.
Of course, there were ample chances for City to add to Marcelino Núñez’s brilliant free-kick yesterday but none of them went in. And if it was a one-off, then fair enough – that’s football as the saying goes – but it wasn’t.
In the Premier League, we created few chances but when they did come along they would invariably be missed. Now, in the Championship, the goalscoring opportunities are more plentiful but still we miss them, and for the same reason – no belief.
Aaron Ramsey, who missed the easiest chance of the afternoon, is obviously unscarred by all that’s gone before at this football club but quickly tapped into that same mindset.
Dean Smith cited the amount of City possession and chances, and the same against Wigan, but we’ve been here before too.
Under Daniel Farke, mainly in the Premier League, we had games and spells of games where we scored well statistically and considered ourselves very unlucky, but when those spells bear no fruit and continue to do so, then eventually the whole caboodle collapses.
Then, even the good things that have been happening stop happening. And that, to me, feels like the precipice on which we currently stand.
Even armed with a squad that, we’re told, is technically superior to most in this division, the good stuff can only happen if there is a rock-solid base from which to perform.
But we don’t have one. It’s not remotely solid. Just like the confidence, it’s fragile and prone to buckling under even the gentlest pressure.
Hull did very little to earn their two goals yesterday – the first being the type of gift that usually arrives on the morning of December 25 adorned with fancy paper and ribbons – the type from which we rarely benefit ourselves – and the second, the almost routine, calamitous concession from a set-piece.
From thereon in, with a two-goal lead to hang on to, the Tigers displayed the type of heart and desire we can only dream of.
So obsessed have we become with the technical side of the game, the part that relies on effort, adrenalin and oomph has been forgotten – far from ideal in a division that demands it.
And for that, I’m afraid we do need to look at the head coach and his coaching team. In addition to filling the heads of the players with technical information and a long list of dos and don’ts, they should also be reminded that hard work, effort and balls are needed to win games of football.
As the Championship has demonstrated thousands of times, a team with plenty of the latter usually triumphs over a team that relies solely on the former. There’s no room in this division for Big Time Charlies.
Again, the job of the coaches is to ensure this isn’t, or doesn’t, become a thing.
Dean Smith and Craig Shakespeare can’t, of course, be blamed for Max Aarons inexplicably thumping a clearance directly into the midriff of Andrew Omobamidele or Grant Hanley allowing an inswinging corner to just hit him rather than decisively deal with it, but they are responsible for overseeing the environment in which these type of cock-ups have become the norm.
I’m not sure how this ends (although I know how the Twitter majority wants it to) but S&S are skating on very thin ice.
That no player within the group has shown any sign of improvement since their arrival is quite something but, for me, equally damning is the downbeat look and feel to this group – one devoid of freshness and zip, even with the addition of some new faces.
Whether or not this goes back to the original appointment of Smith and Shakespeare, and the unusual circumstances surrounding it, I have no idea, but the Premier League hangover from which we are clearly suffering (even if Smith denies it) is not dissimilar to the one that must have impacted S&S when they arrived here.
To have been sacked from your dream job and then jettisoned into a basket case of a club within a matter of days with no time to recharge the batteries and/or clear the head was, looking back, more than a little odd.
Just as it was to end up with a Steady Eddie manager when the model was designed to accommodate those with fresh ideas, hunger and ambition.
The vast majority of us threw our weight behind it because that’s what we do, and Stuart Webber (as always) gave a compelling answer when questioned on the pathway that led to Dean Smith, but it never felt quite right – neither from Smith’s nor our perspective.
Maybe that’s why we are where we are now. But, I’m not quite as far down my #SmithOut path as the majority as I wanted to see him manage a team that included all of the new signings before throwing in the towel.
As it stands, I’m not convinced he’ll even get to see Isaac Hayden’s debut.
The ice may be thin and cracking around the edges but I don’t want us to be one of those clubs. Equally, Carrow Road is, it feels, ready to ignite at the slightest of setbacks, and a way back for S&S looks tricky to say the least.
With two home games upcoming, I’m not sure he makes it to game six if we don’t get, at the very least, a win and a draw.
Troubling times. When Carrow Road turns, it turns.