So much for the magic of the FA Cup. And so much for footballing fairytales.
If David Wagner was under any illusions as to the size of the task that awaits, then he’s not anymore. Under their current guise, and with their current fitness levels, this group is a million miles away from being able to produce any kind of magic. And forget fairytales for now.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few positive signs to emerge but, equally, it would have been desperately disappointing if, with a new head coach to impress, there had not been a renewed sense of vigour and energy among the group yesterday. If you’re not going to display hunger on your new head coach’s opening day, you’re never going to.
But old habits die hard. This is a group that has the giving away of soft goals embedded in its DNA. It’s also a group that has forgotten how to win.
While I have no doubt that the fitness levels will spike in the next few weeks, enabling them to go full gegenpress (rather than the half-hearted version on show against Blackburn), it may take longer for Team Wagner to be able to alter a psyche that, right now, is more lily-livered than brave-hearted.
That’s not to say it won’t or can’t happen – after listening to Wagner’s first interview I believe it will – but a soul-destroying season in the Premier League and a turgid first half to this campaign have sucked the life out of this squad.
It looks jaded and in massive need of a reboot or refresh … call it what you like.
Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, this squad requires a summer overhaul. Some big decisions need to be made pertaining to some crowd favourites and Club legends. Nothing should be off the table.
Of course, some of those decisions will be made for us with Messrs Cantwell, Pukki, Dowell, Byram, Sinani, Hernandez, and Hugill all with contracts expiring on 30 June 2023.
The tricky bit is letting those players depart without a fee – a particular problem when you’re a club without a pot to pee in and when you’re aiming to rebuild a squad in order for another tilt at either promotion or survival.
As it transpires, I’m a little fearful that said survival battle will be in the Championship. That’s how broken it feels right now, even with a new, forward-thinking head coach on board.
Maybe, given the understandable feelgood factor that accompanied Wagner’s arrival – everything he’s done so far has indicated promise – it’s a column for another day, but we should acknowledge that with this season’s and next season’s parachute payments having already been drawn down in the form of a £66 million loan, we’re teetering on that same precarious financial tightrope we were when Stuart Webber first arrived.
The Wagner factor shouldn’t disguise that, especially when yesterday laid bare the inadequacy and imbalance of this squad.
It looked nothing like a group that has a late promotion charge in its locker although, to be fair, the Alex Neil miracle of 2015 also started with a squad that looked anything but promotion-bound.
Football can be weird like that and we have to hope for something extraordinary to occur.
But it does feel like the five-year plan that was talked about upon Webber’s arrival in the spring of 2017 has taken six years to return us to that exact same place – the very same Championship mid-table nothingness that he first walked into.
The infrastructure is better. Colney is amazing. But on the field, things feel like they’ve turned full circle except that now we don’t have a James Maddison to sell – someone whose sale plugged the financial black hole of the day.
In the here and now, Wagner has a week to improve fitness a little and to get across his ideas of how he wants the team to play, and it was at least heartening to hear an enthused Max Aarons after yesterday’s game.
Without saying the words, Max expressed a liking for the methods of the new regime and relief that his attacking instincts have been unleashed once more.
That, in itself, has to be a good start.
Let’s hope the rest are equally buoyed by the restoration of a German lilt in the dressing room. Let’s hope too that miracles can still happen in NR1.
Hanley will get the blame for his bad back pass and so he should but Krul was slow to react and Andrew O offered nothing to block Vale’s late run, Could Hanley have double their score without a post deflection yes so a lucky escape but playing a predominantly right-sided player on the left is asking for trouble.
I was under the impression McLean was dropping back into the defence to help out on the left but saw very little of this and looked poor most of the game.
Sinani looked energetic when he came on and more like the Midfielder that impressed at Huddesfield Hugill similarly had more about him than Idah.
Wagner will I presume be having double sessions to get the players up to speed and any that don’t meet the standard will be left on the sidelines.
Cantwell unfit or preparing for a move to the Gorbals of Glasgow only time will tell.
Onwards and upwards OTBC but it could be a long week for the players and maybe our American Cousins will top up the pot to buy some help and I will not hold my breath on that.
Keith B says
Forget the soft goal. There isn’t a team in any league that doesn’t have defensive lapses – but of course we only notice ours.
It is clealy the other end where we really struggle. In 2 matches against Blackburn we’ve had 45 shots and no goals. But I think only 1 shot yesterday needed a good save, a few were blocked. Most missed. And I don’t think we managed to win a single free kick within shooting range – which with Nunez, and later Dowell, on the field is a shame.
In the old days. if you listened on the radio. the commentator needed a “Huckerby offside ” button, it happened so often. Now Chris Goreham could do with one for “can’t quite….” followed by “reach it”, “get it under control”, “find a team mate”, “make the tackle”, “hit the target”, “keep it in” and sooner or later, “reach the playoffs”.
Gary Gowers says
Fair comment, Keith. Cheers as ever.
We don’t have a James Maddison to sell; but we do have an American investor who is not going to sit on his hands and watch the club go down the toilet.
I very much doubt we will make the playoffs – part of me doesn’t even want to – but I don’t have any fear for the future now Attanasio is on board.
Gary Gowers says
Good comment – I just hope the current owners’ reticence to let him in doesn’t eventually drive him away.
Thanks, as ever.
Other clubs attract investors, only Norwich’s owners acquire a loan at 6% and tell their long suffering fans they have found an investor.
At this point our American friend appears similar to a bank manager.
bernie Owen says
I wonder if the Blackburn press gave their old boy Hanley an assist for the goal.
Yep sums up, thinking back Farke had defensive mistakes to contend with, so Farke Smudger and Wagner have all witnessed the glaring mistakes from the back two, Mostly Gibson & Hanley,as much as I like our skipper, he is very prone to making howlers, undoing some of the good work he clearly does do, I have never been sure of Gibson, had he been up to it, Dyche would not have unloaded Omobamidele and Tomkinson should be starting to be paired they are the future, I take the line if you are big enough you are ready, Aarons wasn’t as big but weren’t he ready when Farke thrust him in ?.
Whether the two senior pros will like be relegated to second fiddle remains to be seen, but the time is here. People say add Krul to leaving list, I am still not 100% agreement with that , we need an experienced head in between the sticks, as good as Gunny is, injuries and loss of form are possiblbly round the corner. I feel the same about McClean, he still does a fair job, be good when Sorenson is back. Fulham are looking to get Josh Onomah off their books. Been told he isn’t at all bad for this level. loan with view at least he isn’t injured to do a cheap deal with.
Now the biggie Time for Teemu to get his wish and find a new challenge , he really does not owe the club anything, there might be a couple of million on that. Teams have got him worked out, deny him the service and then surround him. Hope he gets his final payday and wish him nothing but the best, I feel we have had that..
I feel for Byram a good player in there, but body cannot cope with the stresses of football, bit like Jarvis , funnily from the same place. With a couple of loans for now With bigger over haul during the summer.
Wagner gave the usual injury updates but said nothing of Cantwell only that he didn’t make the squad. , No **** sherlock WHY is he scotland bound to the 2 team league ? Some of theseplayers will struggle to deliver what Wagner will demand, he now has the time to weed them out. CXhanges are needed
“But it does feel like the five-year plan that was talked about upon Webber’s arrival in the spring of 2017 has taken six years to return us to that exact same place – the very same Championship mid-table nothingness that he first walked into.”
The Webbers have not fundamentally changed how the business operates, so why expect anything to have changed.
And I don’t want to hear about the new facilities. Great facilities have never stopped big clubs dropping down the leagues. They’re a distraction from a host of unmet goals.
Gary Gowers says
“The Webbers have not fundamentally changed how the business operates, so why expect anything to have changed.”
Because I’m a sucker and believed in the five-year plan after year 2 was so successful. 😀 Or maybe I’m just thick. 😀
Sounds like if we don’t get promoted we’ll be in big trouble then Gary as the ones out of contact will surely leave and then Mr Webber will be looking for more turgid replacement’s.
This man’s and the clubs hole is getting deeper and deeper it seems .
It seems like worrying times Gary……but then with NCFC the next crisis is always just around the corner.
Give the blatant lack of any decent signings (which is the direct result of our DoF since Scott departed), why do we never sign any players looking to better themselves from the lower leagues here?
We scour South America, and used to do a decent job in Germany, but signings from UK teams??
I cannot remember any other than Byram and Hughill who both came with “experience”.
I feel we need some hungry youngsters.
O T B C
I think our hungry youngsters have been ditched – all the good prospects signed under Webber have left the club
TIM Ball says
Excellent piece Gary.
The dark clouds gathering over Carrow Road didn’t lift too much after the game, but from most reports and the improved stats it did sound as if it was an improved performance.
I haven’t seen the game nor spoke to anyone who has so I remain somewhat positively neutral.
I have worried all season about this squads inability to turn possession and chances into goals. Deano was quick to mention all the good stats but I have heard we are near the bottom of the stats table when it comes to converting those supposed xp’s into goals.
And when you think we have Pukki, Idah, Sarge and Hugill up front this is just not good enough.
We are at present stuck by the devil and the dep blue sea. Get promotion via the playoffs and another year of embarrassment and turmoil looks extremely likely with the present recruitment team still in situ or stay in the Championship with many players out of contract and a vastly reduced budget and hope for the best.
Neither fills me with enthusiasm.
But we must remain positive. The double training sessions look to be coming back, Wagner seems to have made a positive start despite the defeat to Blackburn and there does feel a much better atmosphere around the club.
But if we all think now Dean Smith has gone there are no problems left then we are absolutely deluded. The Club’s “efforts” for only reporting good news is also a bit worrying. The “If you are not with us, you are against us” mantra has to stop.
The spat with the local media has made the club look childish, it has to end.
Finally, the club never seem to be happier than when they are blaming the fans for all the ills that have beset the club.
So I would like the club to explain this, Alex Tettey was our last holding midfielder who last played regularly for us in 2020. (Olly Skipp was not our player) That is now 3 years ago.
We signed Matthias Normann on loan last season while injured, and despite some good early signs it was a disaster especially in cost to the club.
This season we signed Isaac Hayden who was again injured. Despite assurances from the club itself, that many of us didn’t believe, was that Isaac would only miss 6 matches at most.
That has been proven to be another disaster. Surely once bitten twice shy ?
Why not sign another holding midfielder along with Isaac just in case, and before the club say cost, cost !!! as good as he was did we need another no 10 in Aaron Ramsey or strength in that vital area of the pitch ?
So where did the fans make such a pigs ear of this ? Absolute rubbish. I would go as far as to say this is massive incompetence by the club.
Trybull/Tettey and Olly Skipp allowed all the forward going players to do their stuff knowing they had a base from which to attack from in those glorious Championship years.
Sara, Nunez, etc have not had that this season, both Kenny and Liam Gibbs have tried to fill that roll but neither are out and out holding midfield players.
The team is so unbalanced.
Also I was disappointed to hear Isaac Hayden got dogs abuse on Twitter (hate the thing, will never ever go on it) when he explained how down he was over his persistent injuries.
Now Hayden seems like a top fella and none of this is his fault. It was the club who took this risk and the buck stops there, so I appeal to people not to take it out on him.
A pretty fair summation of the events Gary
Perhaps the most striking thing about yesterday was the dearth of regulars. I hardly saw anyone I know and we were surrounded on all sides by new faces. Many arrived late, hardly any made any noise or appeared engaged in the game. It was bizarre. A glance to the left and the snake pit area caused some surprise as not one single person was standing up!
I mention this because if, as it seems the legions of regular supporters declined to attend despite the unveiling of a new head coach then the cook and her merry band may well have some serious thinking to do ahead of renewal time which is looming.
The game itself yielded some signs of progress from the turgid fare of the entirety of smiths reign. The aight of aarons stationed 40 yards higher up the pitch and giannoulis revelling in a role which suits his strengths was most welcome.
Less welcome was the omnipresent cock up which presented yet another bog standard opponent with yet another winning goal. All of which would have been rendered irrelevant had we shown a degree of professionalism in front of goal. The finishing was scandalous.
Switch the dreadful idah and nunez for Sargent and gibbs and we might have a formula to win the occasional game.
Wagner seems to be very positive, last time I heard clear and precise statements like that was in the early days of Farke-dom.
He seems to know what he is about. Lots more positive than Smith – whom I wish well for trying to wrangle a wayward beast.
Wagner will have his own ideas about a few new players to bring in, also quite possible not many are needed – might just be the invigorating fresh air blowing stagnation out of healthy minds.
All it takes is a few heroes to turn results around.
The overall performances since S&S’s departure have been much improved by all accounts, and I wish Wagner and the squad well – maybe there is still time to force our way up the league to reach the Premiership again. All to play for!