The keyword to emerge after the midweek defeat in Swansea was ‘average’.
City now look an average team with mostly unexceptional players who are now playing a nondescript brand of football. (I say ‘now’ because a month ago we were all quite enthused by what we were seeing).
But after yesterday’s afternoon of disappointment in Coventry, I fear, if we’re being totally honest, that we can add the way the team is being coached to the list of things that fall into the poor to mediocre range.
Okay, we still earned a point and if anyone had offered us one before kickoff we would probably have taken it, but there was so much wrong with yesterday’s performance that it’s hard to know where to start.
Against a Coventry team that itself is unexceptional – especially after selling their two best players from last season – we found ourselves dominated, bullied, and thoroughly outplayed. Given the paucity of performance, it’s even hard to imagine how re-introducing Ashley Barnes and Josh Sargent into this team will make it discernably better.
Both are decent strikers who will add teeth to an attack that is currently toothless, but neither will help solve the problem of how to successfully work the ball through the thirds by passing the ball accurately to players in yellow shirts.
Right now it feels as if David Wagner’s reliance on “structures” has been at the expense of that most fundamental footballing principle. We no longer pass the ball well. Possession is coughed up all too readily and that ability we had in the opening weeks of the season of winning it back also seems to have disappeared
And to think how good we were at keeping the ball in those prime years of Farkeball, which of course we’ll be reminded of when football resumes again on October 21 after the international break when Daniel’s rejuvenated Leeds arrive at Carrow Road.
If the last two games are anything to go by, that could be a painful experience.
Judging by the reported reaction of the away fans yesterday, patience is starting to wear very thin, and a mauling by Leeds – not beyond the realms of possibility – could quite quickly return us to that place we found ourselves in at the back end of last season.
Wagner’s attempts at squad rotation have a basis in logic given the volume of games in a short space of time, but the options he chooses appear increasingly erratic. Part of this comes down, of course, from having a squad that is limited in quality but from the outside looking in the thinking appears as muddled and a bit panicky.
How many of us expected Liam Gibbs to provide a potent foil for Adam Idah yesterday?
Who expected Przemysław Płacheta to provide a consistent threat down our left wing?
The lack of an obvious plan also extends to City’s increasingly painful attempts at shifting the ball through the thirds or, to be more precise, their painful efforts at shifting the ball out of the defensive third.
Wagner’s Plan A (for which there is no Plan B) is clearly to invite the high press and then have Kenny McLean drop in as, effectively, a third centre-back to help start the ball rolling by finding an angle to break that initial press. From there, in that space behind we should be able to launch attacks.
That’s the theory but it doesn’t work. Teams have sussed that if you don’t engage Shane Duffy, Ben Gibson, or McLean and, instead, cut off any clear routes into the midfield then they have nowhere to go.
None of it is helped by the clear reluctance of Duffy, in particular, to have the ball at his feet. Teams are quite happy to stand off and let him have it in the knowledge he has nowhere to go. Gibson, once renowned for his nice left foot, now struggles similarly.
The result, when we have the ball in that defensive third, is akin to a standoff. It’s painful. And then on the odd occasion when we do find an angle for a pass the imprecision and sloppiness kicks in.
But this is not new. Since Rotherham (a) we have looked anything but a good side, or one capable of sustaining a push for the top six.
I didn’t expect to be writing this as soon as early October, but the echoes of last season are already right there. And this is supposedly a squad that Wagner calls his own.
Yet we find ourselves with a team that relies on players who previous head coaches have deemed not good enough. Placheta and Onel Hernandez (who didn’t feature yesterday) have both had spells away from the club on loan, yet are now players we turn to to help sustain a promotion push,
But this hole in which we find ourselves is not just of Wagner’s making. This is the long-term upshot of having to sell your best players and replace them with bargains.
I really hope that Ben Knapper is our knight in shining armour. Our new sporting director, who starts work on November 27, will have quite the to-do list when he arrives if the current direction of travel continues, albeit it appears he will be merely shadowing Stuart Webber until the January transfer window.
As with everything Norwich City, the appointment and introduction of a new SD has to be done with ultra-caution and at the pace of a snail, much like the three-year holding pattern we are in before Mark Attanasio is permitted to make a decision of his own.
All of the above is exacerbated, of course, by Ipswich pulling up trees near the top of the table. That, in truth, is every bit as painful as City’s attempts to play the ball out from the back.
But, we’ve had a good run. The only option is to suck it up and take it on the chin.
In the meantime, we stumble along awaiting the next crisis.