For someone who’s not always the quickest to embrace the spirit of the season, I confess to feeling slightly Christmassy as I walked over Carrow Bridge and was greeted by the unmistakable tones of the Salvation Army band.
Norwich’s equivalent of the ‘the boys of the NYPD choir’ delivered. Traditional and heartwarming in equal measure. Lovely.
Unlike many, I was determined that a bit of ice, freezing temperatures, Sky TV, a teatime kickoff, and the prospect of some dreary football weren’t going to stop me from having a good moan.
Once inside the ground, it was clearly supporter-light, both in the concourses and the stadium itself, but still the collective mood felt okay all things considered, and even the juxtaposition between the Sally Army and the light show/pyro/techno tunes didn’t feel as terrible as it should have done.
And then the football started.
The generosity of spirit continued but in the form of a statuesque Norwich City defence, which appeared surprised that Blackburn players weren’t playing the same game of musical statues. Most of the Barclay would have spotted Sam Gallagher’s run before Ben Gibson did.
But unfortunately, the tone was set right there. Even before I’d had the chance to get the first moan in we were a goal down.
And it rarely improved.
Okay, so there were fits and starts where the tempo increased and, usually by sheer persistence, they conjured up something resembling a half-chance, but that Blackburn keeper Thomas Kaminski was tasked with making just four saves tells its own little story.
Dean Smith cited afterwards the volume of shots that City had – 19 for the record, compared to Rovers’ seven – but that stat ignores the fact that among them were an array of skiers, ballooners, and mishits.
By any metric it was poor. Bereft of guile, pattern and skill.
Only when Liam Gibbs was called into action did the tempo of the passing rise above sloth-level, and only when Onel Hernandez joined the fray did we witness that rare phenomenon called sprinting, but only one of the two looked capable of delivering any quality into the box.
But that was just about it. It felt like one of those clichéd evenings where City could have happily plugged away until midnight and still Kaminski wouldn’t have got his knees dirty.
With Smith, understandably in fairness, chucking on all his attacking players in search of an equaliser that was never coming, City were ripe to be picked off on the counter, and there will not have been a single person in the ground – all 18,000 of them* – who was surprised when Blackburn added their late second.
Gibson is still backing off as we speak.
But it’s wrong to single out Gibson, who will no doubt admit he had a wretched night, when so many of his colleagues had exactly the same. And it certainly goes deeper than 15 underperforming players whose confidence and belief look shot to pieces.
As it happens, I also believe it goes deeper than a beleaguered head coach, whose biggest mistake I believe to have been taking on the job in the first place.
Smith was clearly on the rebound from Villa, a club he loves dearly, and with his head still swirling from being given the heave-ho from there, he took the first job offered to him. In truth, it’s hard to have envisaged at that time, under almost any circumstances, him being offered another Premier League gig.
But, even with the best will in the world, he never appeared a good fit. As daft as it may sound, he never looked right in that City dugout and still doesn’t. Add Craig Shakespeare into that same mix and you have an old-school duo, with old-school ideas in a technical area that neither enjoys being in.
Little wonder it’s not working out, especially when neither has been able to impose a decipherable style of play on a group of players that have proven in the past that they can successfully compete in the second tier.
In case you’re wondering what the Dean Smith style is, in his own words, “Forward-thinking, forward-running. Good possession, moving the ball quickly … when we lose it, how quickly can we go and win it back, and setting traps for the opposition. They’re the main traits.”
Six main traits. At the current count, I give them a solid 0/6.
So, by that barometer, it’s fair to say that the Dean Smith project, which has now been ongoing for 13 months has not worked. While to the outside world, we remain in the playoff places and are still, as things stand, just six points shy of the automatic places, the direction of travel is clear.
One home win in the last seven attempts hardly smacks of a team on the verge of a promotion charge.
I agree with Smith when he says that some of the in-game criticism and cynicism is hardly conducive to good individual performances but when 18,000* souls have braved the ice and cold and have opted to be there rather than watch the game from the coziness of a bar of their living rooms, then human nature tends to take over when you’re watching a load of old rubbish.
Being the overly sensitive soul I am, the singling out of anyone, including the head coach, doesn’t sit comfortably though. Passions understandably run high but at the centre of it are human beings with feelings and with families, some of whom would have been in the stadium.
It’s football, I accept that, and it’s the nature of a football crowd, but when it reaches the level of venom it did last night there’s seldom a way back. When Carrow Road turns, it really turns.
Despite Stuart Webber, Dean Smith, and most of the upper echelons of the club labelling us fans as little more than a bunch of ungrateful whingers, we’re not. And we’re not daft either.
The Club has chosen not to embrace us. We’re now the enemy. As someone on Twitter put it…
“It’s gone from siege mentality to Berlin bunker mentality. #ncfc”
Whether that bunker mentality will stretch to Webber throwing his full weight behind Smith will be revealed in the next few days, but it’s clear the most humane thing to do would be to relieve Smith and Shakespeare of their duties and go for a coaching reset.
With Smith expressing his relief that the next game is away from home, there feels almost no way this can end well with him still in situ.
It’s pointless, at this stage, speculating on who would be a better fit, but we should definitely return to the aisle marked ‘young, hungry, and innovative’. Our experiment with tried, trusted and ‘safe pair of hands’ should, in my view, be abandoned forthwith.
That’s not to say it will. I get the feeling that the fans’ feelings are the very last thing on Webber’s mind right now. But when said fans are perceived as the enemy of the Club, the problems lie deep. The issues go beyond some indifferent coaching.
What was once a healthy and progressive culture is now a toxic one. Dean Smith is a problem but is far from the only problem.
I have no faith that Delia and Michael have the will or desire to intervene. Maybe the Attanasios now need to up the ante sooner than they had planned in order to halt this decline.
Whether they will, or whether we just have to sit tight and zip it – as the Club wants us to – will become clear in the next few days and weeks.
Either way, this is grim. Nothing remotely enjoyable happened last night and Carrow Road has turned into a joyless place, bereft of goodwill and fun.
Happy Christmas! 😀
* Not official… my guesstimate.
Andrew Delf says
Morning Gary. Well it’s clear that we have finally arrived at the bottom of the barrel football wise. The whole club is an utter shambles at the moment. Dean Smith has taken a reasonable bunch of footballers and coached every single ounce of tactical, physical and understanding of how to put together a spirited performance out of this group.
How low does the Webber/ Smith board intend to allow this shambles to continue. They should hang their heads in shame with what they are doing to our club. Another article for Mick Dennis to pass onto his mates.
Neil Pearce says
A very good summing up of what was a very depressing evening. On the attendance figure, was it actually announced? If it was I missed it. It may have been drowned out by the chorus of boos and toxic chants. Certainly there were swathes of empty seats, including the lower Barclay which is usually full. Where I sit at the back of the South stand I found myself isolated amongst empty seats which are normally full of fellow season ticket holders. If the official attendance wasn’t released I can only think it was due to the embarrassment of seeing a once full and vibrant Carrow Road bereft of fans and atmosphere.
Surely those in the corridors of power can see that the Dean Smith era is on borrowed time. The football is dire, the fans are fed up and increasingly restless. It just isn’t working and a complete reset needed. Smith’s post match comments did nothing to improve the mood. There was no sense of contrition, no admission that we played badly and most importantly that the fans deserve a whole lot better than the dismal offerings placed before them on a freezing and downright dismal night. It’s clear things are not going to get any better unless some big changes are made.
Mike Betts says
Yes Neil, there was no sense of contrition or admission of that we played badly. In fact the comments suggest that we expect too much from the players and coaching team and need to accept that we get to see our team have the most shots or the best xG (whatever that means), even though most of these shots fail to engage the opposing goalkeeper in any serious work.
Neil Pearce says
Exactly Mike. It feels increasingly at times that we are being talked down to and treated like insubordinates and underlings. What is often neglected is the fact is that the fans are the club! As such we can withdraw our services (as many did last night judging by the number of empty seats) and then the club is nothing. Naturally I’d hate to see such a scenario unfold, as it did so back in the bleak days of the tail end of the Chase era. However, things are beginning to develop into a very toxic situation which will help no-one. Action is needed and very soon.
Agree whole heartedly with everything you wrote this morning did enjoy the sally army playing as we walked in.
Took my other half to see her first game yesterday what a mistake that turned out to be😭😭 from team news at 4 30pm seeing Sinarni on the right you just knew it was going to be that type of evening looking at the bench no Todd or AJ where was Dimi ? 2 weeks in the sun and we have more players missing now than planes traveling over the Bermuda Triangle(maybe the plane home took a detour who knows?)
5 mins in a aimless Free kick hits Gibson standing foot and dribbles pass Gunn happy Christmas Blackburn love Norwich written over it. Then we endure 40 mins of Gunn to Hanley to Gibson back to Gunn to Aaron’s out for a Blackburn throw in or an aimless punt to a Blackburn defender can it get much worse? Then a glimmer of light Pukki gathers a mis placed pass 30 yards out wallop the Blackburn Centre half clatters him only one outcome? Not in eyes of the man in Black a free Kick and the team in blue half stay with 11 men much to the anger of Thomo who vents at the man in black upsetting a few of the fans sitting around him.
By this time he had had enough and started having a go at Smith singing “sort it out” ( you know I backed Smith but enough is enough)
Think it took 3 mins of the second half for a back pass to Gunn even the fans started cheering sarcastly. then comes Smiths first round of changes the invisible man stays on How? He takes of two players who might just get us a foothold in a poor game!
Just after an hour he takes Sinarni off had forgotten he was playing tbh we up the tempo but man it’s still poor would have played all night and not hit the onion bag!
The ground was half full when Rovers scored again another massive deflection summed up last night for me to bang average sides with no quality.
I can honestly say is worst game I’ve seen at Norwich since Tony Pullis spent 90mins on a cold February night launching the ball into orbit and getting a 1 nil before winning the league that year!
Thankfully I’ve not got to suffer the next 3 home games and maybe have a change of direction when I grace Carrow Road for the Birmingham match at the end of January!
Have a good Chritmas Gary and you and the guys keep up the good work always enjoy reading what you all have to say!
Gary Gowers says
Cheers for your comments Thommo, as ever. I hope you and yours have a good one too, pal. OTBC.
Smith has moved on from blaming the players to blaming the fans. How can he possibly be allowed to carry on? He ignored all the criticism from the previous performance. A new boss coming in has good players and a chance of promotion. But we are declining rapidly and if those above him don’t make the right move they should be held accountable, money isn’t necessarily the answer but the change is going to be expensive.
We are rueing the day we got rid of Daniel Farke. At least he shouted and screamed at his players when things were not going right, whereas Smith stands there with his hands in his pockets. He must go and a younger thinking coach come in and save us.
Roger Cole says
About the only game tactic remaining from DF days is the pass it round the back stuff.
Now opposing teams know we always play 4 at the back (BUT fullbacks are no longer free to attack) they go 3 up top then easily overload our lightweight 3 in the middle and 3 disjointed front men. Smith may be fielding those who tried hardest in training but without a discernable plan when in possession and with poor Sargent played out of position we look for all the world like headless chickens.
Halfway point in the season and I am already asking how many points we need to avoid relegation?
Gary Field says
But, but, but, there is NO disconnect.
I’m beginning to wonder if the NCFC view is that everything would be just fine if it wasn’t for the pesky fans and media?
A real pig of a game. Played out at a stupid time, in the freezing cold with only one team putting in sufficient effort.
The contempt that Delia smith, her old man, the lovely webbers, the creepy richens, the manager and some of the players hold the support in is emanating from every dark recess of the club. “The fans are my children” my ar5e. The only time this shower ever show the slightest respect for the paying customer coincides with the time they actually commit to being a paying customer. One of the most expensive match day tickets in the country buys the lucky recipient an afternoon of absolute shite, usually culminating in defeat,
The only discernible change between this season and last is the quality of our conquerors. Home defeats to Luton, Preston Middlesbrough and Blackburn, within the blink of an eye are a disgrace.
“Thankfully, our next game is away from home” spewed mr smith (the younger} in this regard mr smith, I heartily concur,
Absolutely spot on as usual Gary but (no offense intended) any clown including me could see how this was going to go from the very start of the Smith era, as you say he was never a good fit in most people’s eyes apart from the one man who mattered. Take a bow Stuart Webber, you sold Daniel Farke down the river and you’re now doing the same with Dean Smith who’s left to face the music week in week out.
The club appears rotten to the core and just sacking Smith and his team is not going to solve everything, Delia and Michael are doing their usual Emperor Nero impressions and allowing others to ruin what was once a great club. Happy Christmas to all MFW reader’s.
Sax yellow says
Another good piece, if smith stays and webber can’t make peace with the fans and media, then the last resort is season ticket sales , that’s where the club gets destroyed.
It’s a gamble that the Americans would then take over. There is no waiting list anymore , we don’t have to buy a season ticket in worry of missing out. And if this continues they will be giving them out free. It upsets me that it would be my only choice. But this can’t continue, its just sad that Delia is not the person I thought she was , and sits back and let’s people in the club attack the fans .
I guess going by last night some have listened to Webber , if you don’t like it find another club .
Sitting in my lounge in bitterly cold Blackpool watching the game last night I felt for all those that had made the effort to get to the ground and reminded me of my days in the 60’s and 70’s we would do those journeys from Gt Yarmouth the only difference was the players weren’t over paid primadonna’s.
Last week Smith thought he was clever saying that Swansea could have played another hour and still would have scored, I would say that if the whole of last nights squad was given a free run in a house of illrepute they wouldn’t have scored.
As for our investors over the pond I’m not sure that he will be doing much maybe his watching brief that Michael Foulger is the conduit for will wait till the crap hits the fan before making their move hoping to get a cheaper deal.
Sky zoomed in on Webber and his son who looked bored and his dad had that look that said not my fault, maybe he’s waiting for divine intervention from Delia to make a decision after another Sherry or 3
Norwich playing style does not make much sense, if there is any playing style. Its more like hard trying, some continuous pressing, hopefully defense can keep zero and hopefully someone makes something individually in attack which would end as a goal.
Aarons and Pukki worked well together, it was obvious that Aarons tried to find Pukki when he started his attack. Outside that I didnt see anything which would have made much sense. Norwich squad lacks skill, Blackburn lacks skill. Games between teams like that are coin tossing.
I can easily understand Norwich fans frustration at how Norwich has played under Smith. He is not the only problem, your recruitment is laughably awful.
Not much more to add to what has already been written. Very disappointing evening apart from probably Sargent and Aarons. It’s a pity that the booing gets to the players when it is meant for the manager and his chums. It will get through to the players on the pitch though. Either the players are poor and deserve it and Smith can’t do anything with them or they have had their skill and confidence coached out of them. I tend to think the latter and recall Nunez in his early games being a revelation with his control and passing range. What happened to all that? No one last night could control the ball. First touch was consistently dreadful and so much passing found an opponent often because no Norwich player would look for space to receive the ball. It is hard to see that changing under Smith. The players, if they are capable, need a coach who can give them freedom and confidence and then perhaps we will see some better football. I’m not bothered about the promised land of the Premier League, although we probably need the money, I just want to be entertained. As Gary mentioned, the Salvation Army band was the highlight!
Fair article yet again Gary. I want to hark back a little while when Smith explained how him and Shakey let the players have a large say in how they want to play.
Now I have never been involved n pro football (only having a trial) but managed several local sides from the old Anglian Combination and Norwich sunday league. But have been watching for 60 years and completed a couple of old coaching levels. I have worked out that at any level players need an set plan of how to play almost drummed in via repetition. In that, individuals need the extra input of how they to play their part in the bigger plan.
Not leaving it to players how they will set up or play the game. Watching City at the moments there looks a tiny bit of each in there. but a hell of a lot of . what NOW.
It isn’t just the playing side, the management from top to bottom needs the overhaul, two octogenarians holding the reigns, and being honest have never had a great idea of what is needed. Now happy to let the workers dictate how it is run. See how this matches up at the green stuff.
Two people, dare I say show signs of narcissism which like other not so good traits can catch on.
hence the drawbridge up mentality, with blame being leveled at the paying fans. many who have been following City way before the cradle marks disappeared off ar*e
Please do not look to the other side of the Pond, the only way the influence, structure and ideas will be in place, is if a complete buy out happens. Being honest I cannot see that happening any time soon. What will happen is eventually Smudger will be shown the door, another guy brought in, it will be fine (if lucky) for a while then we limp on to the next Sh*tshow. History will continue to repeat itself.
The financial director said numerous offers have come to the club over his years at the club and those suitable are passed on to the owner for their decision. Surely all offers of investment should go to an independent assessor ie the Bank or who ever is charged with finding investment.
Delia has never wanted to lose control it’s her last vestige of a waning celebrity status.
Jon B says
Wondering if they dare to raise season ticket prices Gary, nearly every other cost is going up. Sinari I recall scored 9 last season with a few man of the match performances, someone knew where / how to play him. Max A – you can see his total frustration. Nunez faded away, ok maybe an injury. Cantwell – some random story about he is not ready. Sara not making an impact, Gibson shaky, the list goes on. I’m afraid S and S have sucked out all positivity,
Good piece Gary.
Some of us could see this coming months ago. The style of play was ponderous, but we were managing to grind out results at the beginning of the season, even though the games were dull. The DS fans kept repeating the mantra ‘but look at the table” when the rest of us knew we were on borrowed time.
Unfortunately, you and the rest of the media can write all the articles you want; it just feels like the club doesn’t care one iota what the press or public think and feel. This is the most disconnected leadership team at the club since the dark days of Robert Chase.
I can’t believe how quickly this has changed from the heady days of Farke’s team strolling to the Championship title just 18 months ago.
Darrell Butcher says
I was as unimpressed as most, when Smith was announced as manager, but willing to see where this “experiment” would take us. Being a manger fired from a club who thinks you can’t keep them up, seems an odd choice for a club trying to stay up, but “new broom” and all that.
However, at best, we have shown that we could be a mid table championship side, at worst? Ipswich back in the day (and ourselves in that dark distant past..)
We don’t seem to be able, or willing, to take the game to the opposition at home, and too many times have held on away. We keep playing, and bigging up, mediocre players like Gibson and Hernandez. We have let go some promising young talent, and keep those we have left on the bench. Players like Aarons seem lacklustre and uninterested in playing for smith. And who can blame them? He doesn’t set the crowd buzzing with his team selection, and his subs sometime beggar belief. Fair play to smith, sometimes we haven’t had the rub of the green, and own goals are always a fluke for the opposition, however when you have little idea how to motivate your own players, you won’t win over the fickle punters. I’m afraid that the cold, late kick off, TV spot and near certainty of an embarrassing defeat, did put me off going in person. Who’s next? Not sure, but I suspect we need to find someone who has different ideas, new methods, something inspiring that will push players and fans alike. It might then take a couple of years, but if it makes for better football, and more importantly, premiership stability, so be it.