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Curious timing as Neil is finally shown the door

PUBLISHED: 07:28 11 March 2017

Norwich players in the pre-match huddle at Bristol City - just how united are they?  Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich players in the pre-match huddle at Bristol City - just how united are they? Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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On January 21 I wrote in this column that “ultimately the decision to stick with Alex Neil may prove inspired, but currently it simply looks desperate”.

Alex Neil is back on the market after his Norwich City dismissal. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd Alex Neil is back on the market after his Norwich City dismissal. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

On January 21 I wrote in this column that “ultimately the decision to stick with Alex Neil may prove inspired, but currently it simply looks desperate.”

Clearly the City board decided on Friday afternoon that the gamble had failed and Neil has departed.

It all happened in rather bizarre fashion, with Neil having given a press conference earlier in the afternoon that suggested that he was in post for the long haul, only to be sacked within a couple of hours.

The timing appears callous and uncoordinated, but what is stranger is that the sacking came three days after the latest abject performance at Bristol City and less than 24 hours before today’s game. I honestly don’t think I can remember a sacking with similar chronology, which suggests to me that something may have happened late on Friday afternoon, although presumably we will never know.

With City having taken just two points out of 24 against the teams currently in the play-off positions and just five out of 12 against the teams in the bottom three, the surprise is not that Neil has gone, but that he hung on for so long.

But while I think the right decision was made to let him go and he will no doubt be well compensated financially I can’t exult in a fellow human being losing his job and great deal of his pride.

While City under Neil have been in decline since Christmas 2015 I will always be grateful to him for one of my best days as a City fan at the play-off final. I’m sure that he will bounce back and I wish him well.

However, I have never believed that all City’s problems could be resolved by simply replacing the manager. Recruitment is clearly one area where huge improvements are needed, but also it’s clear that the playing staff needs a major overhaul, something that Neil set out his plans for in what proved to be his final press conference.

A major insight into the problems of a dressing room that has clearly been an unhappy place for some months was given in Cameron Jerome’s emotional post-game interview at Hillsborough when he talked of players not respecting the coaching staff’s plans and playing to their own agendas, something that hardly came as a surprise to many of us, but was nevertheless tough to hear.

Just like Russell Martin’s interview after the Brighton disaster this was clearly a passionate man unable to hold back his inner frustrations at what was going on around him and suggested that something had to give very soon.

I understand that the long awaited strategic plan that the board have been working on should be revealed soon. This is an opportunity for the club to get the vast majority of fans back onside so I hope that the changes it contains are material and not simply cosmetic.

Its perhaps too early to speculate about a new manager, although the bookies seem to have focussed on Gary Rowett, while sports journalists seem to think that Roy Hodgson is the most likely candidate.

Whoever comes in, however, will have some major issues to address. Set-pieces still have the same effect on City’s defence as garlic to a vampire, initially promising performances can’t be sustained raising questions about stamina and away form has been shocking.

While hopefully any new man will get more from the squad there is a difference between greater desire and intensity and improved technical efficiency, but the bottom line is that we need to see whatever 11 is selected going out and giving everything they have for the shirt, because that is something that we have seen all to infrequently this season, particularly away from home.

I know that the fans will be 100 per cent behind the team today and hopefully we can now start to put all the divisions behind us and move on together.

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