Captain’s comments reveal the true depth of Alex Neil’s problems at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 18:21 31 October 2016 | UPDATED: 18:21 31 October 2016
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If Norwich City’s resilience, character and mental strength were being questioned after allowing Leeds back into the game on Tuesday night, by 6pm on Saturday the club captain’s comments had given us a resounding answer.
While Russell Martin cannot be criticised for fronting up to the media after such a horrific team performance, his brutally honest assessment that some of his team-mates had ‘given up’ at the Amex Stadium was a damning indictment of the lack of leadership on the pitch.
It’s a common theme at a lot of football clubs now, and has been the case at Norwich for some time. Players with those warrior-like qualities, who have the ability to inspire and motivate their team-mates when the chips are down, are few and far between in the top two leagues. John Terry at Chelsea is an obvious example, Wes Morgan at Leicester another. It’s hard to remember the last time City had a player of that mould. Gary O’Neil, when in the team, was probably the closest we had to it.
Relinquishing leads and being unable to pick ourselves up is a telling sign. Surrendering two-goal advantages at home to Liverpool and West Ham came in a run of 10 games without a win last season. That same soft underbelly has been exposed four times in 12 days, having drawn when we should have won at Craven Cottage.
But hearing Martin utter the words ‘embarrassing’, ‘humiliated’ and ‘gave up’ in his post-match interview proved that this was a different kind of defeat. It was more than a gulf in quality, it was a complete lack of fight and effort, and that’s even more alarming than the state of Norwich’s calamitous defending.
To further compound several leads being surrendered, in Alex Neil’s reign Norwich have come from behind just three times to win in the league. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion there is a fundamental lack of mental strength among this group of players.
That problem was exacerbated by the quality of some Premier League opposition, and it’s against the top-half teams in the Championship where Neil has struggled this season. The victories that resulted in him being named September’s Manager of the Month were against four teams that make up the current bottom seven – Nottingham Forest, Wigan, Cardiff and Burton.
The manager’s reaction that he ‘wouldn’t lose sleep’ after it was suggested some fans had criticised his methods prior to Saturday’s defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Norwich haven’t gone from being a fantastic team to a terrible one in the space of a fortnight. In truth, they have been distinctly average for most of the campaign. Some spells of brilliance, but periods when most would agree Norwich have been below par too. Yet if playing poorly and winning is the sign of a good team, what can be said about a squad heralded as the second best in the league giving up in such an unacceptable fashion?
Neil made it clear he will change personnel for Saturday’s crunch game against Leeds, and while there is no shortage of contenders for being dropped surely one of the most likely is the goalkeeper.
As City’s defensive frailties were highlighted again in East Sussex, it’s impossible to know if our recent record would have been improved had John Ruddy been in Michael McGovern’s place. The latter made an error for the first goal and has kept just one clean sheet in 13 starts since coming on at half-time against Sheffield Wednesday.
McGovern has pulled off some impressive saves in some games, but you wonder if Neil will agree the time is right for Ruddy to be given his chance. A lot has to be done to sort out issues at the back that go far deeper than who is in between the sticks, but reinstating a ‘keeper who has been instrumental in two promotions before may help bring about a change.
The way Norwich perform on Saturday will determine whether the players are behind the manager. If that response isn’t an emphatic one then you get the feeling Neil won’t be sleeping quite as soundly in the coming weeks.