Southampton’s chairman recently outlined the club’s philosophy. In essence it’s: “We know what we believe, and apply it to every decision; we don’t look for short cuts, but build and earn success; we don’t panic, we’re consistent”.
I believe we should have been proud of our club’s performance in those two years. What I saw though was a dramatic rise in expectations that still haven’t abated. While we were justifiably disappointed with the relegation season, some of our wider expectations seem, to me, to be less than reasonable.
If Sunday reminded us that our 34-year-old manager is still learning, maybe that’s not a bad thing. I believe Alex Neil has star quality and hope he’s with us for a very long time. But he’s learning his trade at the top level. The good news is that – as our two games against Middlesbrough in the spring showed – he’s a very quick learner.
If we don’t have a top-quality striker, at least we have the next-best thing: genuine competition for the striker’s spot. I remain an admirer of Jerome, but Mbokani, Lafferty and Grabban are real contenders.
The arrival of Jarvis seems to have passed largely unnoticed among City fans. Two reasons are no doubt involved: the deal was announced well after the official close of the window – I refuse to say it ‘slammed shut’ – and he’s not a centre back.
Why did good players choose to stay at City when our wages were severely cut after relegation? For some, such as Bradley Johnson, there was an admirable element of loyalty. But I guarantee they only stayed because we promised major bonuses if we got promoted.
Brady looks well worth the wait, while Dorrans is beginning to seriously challenge Jonny Howson as my favourite player. His ability was never in doubt, but I heard reservations about his workrate and commitment at previous clubs.
We were given a tough opener. Palace’s form in the second half of last season was sensational, especially away from home. Their 10th place finish reflected much better than 10th place form after bringing in Alan Pardew.
I’ve always admired Jerome – and that admiration reached new heights with his Wembley performance. I’m told he’s desperate to shake off the “not quite good enough for the Premier League” tag, and that hunger could make him a good first choice for us.
A newspaper report of our training in Germany and Austria summed up life at City as it now is: “Every base was covered, every member of the team knew their role as Neil observed from close quarters.”
Watching Alex Neil on the touchline, you wouldn’t guess this is pre-season against Hitchin and Cambridge – it might just as well be the Premier League. And forget going off for a shower and a beer when you finish your 45/60 minutes: the players sit and listen to his detailed dissection of their performance.
We’ve seen enough of Mr McNally to know he’ll be working night and day, focused on exactly what he wants. He’ll achieve whatever can be achieved without jeopardising the solvency of the club. And he won’t be deflected from his path by clamour from the fans.
McNally’s tenure at Norwich has been five years of remarkable success and one of failure. The hurt of that failure makes him determined to avoid a repetition, and his determination is as steely as the strength that led him to appoint AN when we were all clamouring for an experienced head.
Alex Tettey didn’t catch the eye as, for instance, Jonny Howson did. But boy, was he important to us breaking up Ipswich possession and getting our own started. My Man of the Match award was between the two of them.
An insecure manager would stress how much was wrong with the club when he arrived. At the end-of-season dinner, Alex made a point of praising Neil Adams’ work and the good health of the club he walked into in January.
The 3-1 scoreline was too much for Wolves to claw back in their home leg, and we were on our way to the Millenium Stadium. What brought Wolves down wasn’t lack of quality, but lack of belief. Belief that keeps the heart pumping and the legs moving. This time, of course, the boot is likely to be on the other foot. We’ll be favourites.
I have as much right to call Gary Hooper ‘a fellow striker’ as I have to call Mick Dennis ‘a fellow journalist’. However, let me draw on my long career in the West Fulham League (Division 5) to say that was a real striker’s goal.
However much some of us pretend to take a reasonable and mature view of games, talking to other fans reminds us that we are utterly and magnificently biased. When we get ‘the rub of the green’, we raise a mild eyebrow and move on. When it goes against us, we’re scandalised.
In the televised leaders’ debates before the 2010 Election – back when David Cameron thought they were ‘essential to democracy’ – the mantra became “I agree with Nick”. For people like me, the mantra on this forum tends to be “I agree with Mick”.
The greatest commitment to attacking football wasn’t under Lambert or Alex Neil, but under Neil Adams, yet he didn’t come close to inspiring the fans as we’re now inspired. There’s something else – an evident commitment, heart and team spirit that supercedes structure and style. And that, perhaps, is the ‘Norwich Way’.