Those hoping that the World Cup amnesty would help rebuild some NCFC bridges will have been disappointed.
Despite City beating Swansea, the level of performance was such that I suspect not a single view will have changed since that disappointing 2-1 defeat by Middlesbrough just over a month ago.
Those who are content with the Smith/Shakespeare axis have pointed to the win and the clean sheet as evidence that the work being done over the last month ‘without the ball’ is already paying dividends. Some, who were at the Swansea game, also noted a change in shape that wasn’t evident to those watching from afar.
But those who question whether Dean Smith is a good fit for Norwich City had their view solidified by a showing that, despite all of the above, bore several hallmarks of pre-World Cup – notably one in which the performance level fell away as the minutes ticked by and which was beset by imprecise passing and a continuation of what’s now officially known as stodginess extremis.
Against a backdrop of Swansea playing in a style that was once very familiar to us, the differences were stark. I doubt I was alone in being momentarily transported back to the heady days of 2018-19.
The pro camp will point to the beautiful football delivering zero points and the Smudgerball yielding three. And noted.
As ever, what occurs next is what matters, and it’d be wrong to point to 90+ difficult minutes in Swansea as the sole barometer of Smudgerball’s own Project Restart. I guess it was only the dreamers (like me) who hoped a brave new world would emerge from the training fields of Tampa.
The “different animal” was never going to be *that* different.
To hear Smith, post-Florida, talk of being content with our use of the ball even before the break suggests that nothing’s going to change in that department anytime soon, so it was a bit daft on my part to have expected it.
And Smith is right to a point. There have been spells where the football has flowed nicely and where we look capable of opening up teams. Just not that many. And those spells, when they arrive, tend to only last 15-20 minutes.
I don’t believe it’s entitled to wish for said spells to sometimes last for 90 minutes.
I also don’t see it as being entitled to expect this team to be battling for an automatic promotion spot given the financial advantages the Club currently has as a result of a few flirtations with Premier League riches.
While our spending limits remain relatively modest, this remains a squad borne of consecutive attempts to stay in the top division and so, in Championship terms, is on paper stronger than at least 20 other teams in the division.
That’s why many of us perceive this season as a narrow window of opportunity. With our parachute payments due to end in 2024, any financial advantage we may currently have over the large majority of teams will then disappear into the ether.
And if we reach that point with Delia and Michael still calling the shots and tightly gripping the purse strings, we could quickly become subsumed in the scrap with all the other Championship have-nots.
Back to that same place we were in when the Webberlution began.
And so, while I’ve now skipped ahead a bit, this all adds to the current uncertainty and why, in my view, we shouldn’t just be content to be in the mix for the top six.
One other thing before I conclude. There’s a theory that many of those in the (Dean) ‘Smith out’ camp have an entrenched view and will always find a negative because their mind is made up. While this may be true, I’d argue there’s also a hardcore for whom the club can do no wrong and who will *always* pluck a positive from even the darkest corner.
And around we all go again, in ever-decreasing circles. The battle lines that were drawn pre-Boro remain and I see little that can alter that other than a fine run of form that I doubt this team is capable of.
Having said all of that … I wouldn’t half love to see us beat Blackburn and go one of those runs.
Then I’d be happy to eat (and share) some humble pie.