No nail-biter so it’s now time to consider how Norwich City can adapt
PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 March 2017
When the post mortems start at the end of a season that now seems almost certain to end in a failure to make the play-offs despite a City squad that, on paper at least, would be the envy of most Championship managers, the recurring theme will be missed opportunities.
There have been so many occasions this season when City have gone into games in a position to really push their claims as genuine promotion contenders, but in virtually every case they have failed to deliver when it really mattered.
In fact, ever since two-goal leads were surrendered at St James Park and Craven Cottage in early autumn, City have been exhibiting a lack of killer instinct at one end of the pitch coupled with an alarming defensive fragility at the other.
That’s not to say that they played badly against Ipswich.
A quick look at the match statistics shows just how dominant City were in terms of possession and strikes at goal, but missed chances, delayed substitutions and the sight of an unmarked opponent scoring at the far post is a scenario that’s been all too familiar over the last two seasons, and it now seems that anything less than a win at Hillsborough this afternoon will see the end of any realistic play-off hopes.
A season that started with a bang at Ewood Park in early August is now in danger of ending with a whimper, with City’s terrible pre-Christmas run leaving too much ground to be made up by a squad which has been consistently poor away from Carrow Road and against sides in the upper echelons of the Championship.
For the last five years we’ve seen City’s seasons go down to the wire, with promotion or relegation at stake, but now it seems likely that we will just be bystanders as others fight for a place in the Premier League.
That will be hard to take for many of us, particularly with the Premier League parachute payments decreasing next season before stopping altogether next May, but the core of this squad has run its course and a rebuilding exercise is now urgently needed.
It is doubtful that City will be able to maintain such a big squad going forward so once again the spotlight will be on recruitment as the club seek to put together a leaner but more effective group of players, but I’m not sure that the parachute payments are as vital as some people might think.
As Aston Villa and Huddersfield have proven this season, it’s not just a case of throwing money about, but more of finding the correct synergy between the manager and players.
City had that under Paul Lambert, who got the club to the Premier League on very limited resources, but apart from the early part of Alex Neil’s tenure they have never replicated that type of spirit.
However, the other key is what happens off the pitch. Since the departure of Jez Moxey, which in itself produced a significant uplift in the mood surrounding Carrow Road, the club has been carrying out a strategic review to look at how best to move forward.
It would, of course, be easy to cynically write that off as a largely cosmetic PR exercise, but the impression that I get is that there is real change afoot.
In the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to meet Tom Smith a couple of times and seen how well he communicates with fans.
Not only does he come across as having a genuine interest in listening to supporters’ views, but, most crucially, as having a good grasp of the realities of modern football.
While he won’t appeal to those who want a radical change of ownership, and will be dismissed as an entitled rich kid by others, I think he’s a breath of fresh air who could be good for the club.