Alex Neil’s presence at Carrow Road must spark a response from Norwich City’s players
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Time to wake up, time to get angry, time to fight, Norwich City – before this season really unravels.
Five games without a win in the Championship could soon extend to a run leaving City’s campaign in tatters, unless the steel which breathed life into the club’s new era can be rediscovered.
The best away performance of the season at Forest on Tuesday? I’m afraid I just can’t agree with Daniel Farke.
Better than the limp effort during Saturday’s 1-1 home draw with Barnsley? Yes, fair enough, but that’s not saying much.
The stubborn efforts in winning 1-0 amid pressure-cooker atmospheres at Ipswich and Sheffield United were far more impressive. Genuine desire, fight and collective spirit were on show in both of those games.
They may have clung on desperately to win 1-0 at Boro but the Canaries also displayed attacking threat in the 2-1 win at Reading – all of those wins were better away performances.
Clearly the coach was trying to show support to his players in defeat at Forest, when perhaps a draw would have been a fairer result, but only just.
In truth, it was a game where the hosts did not pressurise City especially. They are one of the only teams to average higher possession and pass-completion percentages in the division. Mustapha Carayol and Daryl Murphy dug deep to find the winning moment, leaving Farke’s team with another few days of soul searching.
If their response is not to come out swinging at Carrow Road on Saturday then Alex Neil will be standing on the sidelines with salt in his pocket, desperate for some wounds to rub it in.
If the entire City squad are not aware that the Scot will have his players straining at the leash come kick-off, they have not learned their lessons.
Ahead of Millwall the noises from the camp were that they knew exactly what to expect at The Den but they underestimated the challenge and were trampled by the Lions that awful August day, coming nowhere near the intensity required.
Preston have emerged from an injury crisis of their own which saw their bright start to life under Neil tail off thanks to a run of seven games without a victory. That was brought to a halt with an excellent win at Bristol City on Tuesday, as some of their players returned to fitness.
Now their 36-year-old boss will have his sights set on leaving Carrow Road with the sweetest of three points in his back pocket, following his March sacking. Neil will always be fondly remembered for the immediate impact he made in Norfolk back in 2015, inspiring a remarkable run of 17 wins and just three defeats in his first 25 games. It all culminated in that glorious play-off final victory over Middlesbrough at Wembley but also fell just three points short of an automatic promotion place.
One of those three defeats was to Boro, 1-0 at Carrow Road, live on Sky Sports, on a Friday night. That hurt Neil and he made sure his team felt the pain as well – to make sure they gained their revenge at Wembley. That day City burst out of the traps to launch into a 2-0 lead. Neil will have North End fired up.
You have to earn the right to play good football in the Championship. Wolves – regardless of their huge spending – have done just that and already look like champions in waiting. Opposition teams are already wary of the threat they carry, half the battle lost in their heads before a ball is kicked.
City’s superb nine-game unbeaten burst looked like they were doing likewise, earning the right to play the more expansive football Farke longs for.
Those determined efforts lifted Norwich into the top six and confidence was really starting to build, attacking football looked to have a base from which to flourish. Instead, injuries and fitness have contributed to several steps backwards.
There is no room left for excuses, though. This squad must stop a six-game winless run at Carrow Road quickly, or the uneasy atmosphere is going to keep getting worse – which is sure to spill into next Wednesday’s AGM.
With a tough trip to Cardiff next Friday and games against Sheffield Wednesday (home) and Leeds (away) to follow, it’s time to pump up the pre-match music in the dressing room ahead of kick-off and start running through those proverbial brick walls.
That home record? It’s the first time a Canaries team have gone six home games without a win in the second tier since 1999, when Bruce Rioch’s team went an horrific 11 in total.
The class of 2017-18 can be under no illusions: crunch time has arrived.
• In case you missed it, my latest NCFC player watch kept an eye on Marley Watkins during Tuesday’s loss at Forest, hopefully he can build on a bright first half which tailed off.
• You can also catch up with this week’s Pink Un Show, as well as our latest podcast, above.