Plenty for Mike Phelan to chew over after latest Norwich City drama

PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 December 2014

Goalkeeping coach Tony Parks, first-team coach Gary Holt, manager Neil Adams and first-team coach Mike Phelan during Norwich City's 2-1 loss to Reading at Carrow Road. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Goalkeeping coach Tony Parks, first-team coach Gary Holt, manager Neil Adams and first-team coach Mike Phelan during Norwich City's 2-1 loss to Reading at Carrow Road. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

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Where do you start in assessing all things Norwich City at the moment?

Important issues dealt with at AGM

It was as interesting as ever at the Norwich City AGM.

It can be a relaxing evening for those of us sent to report on the latest business bulletin coming out of Norwich City because we get the night off from asking the questions.

It’s a chance for the club’s shareholders to take centre stage while we jot down the questions and answers.

It’s always heartening when the questions follow the same sort of flow to the ones that we’ve been asking for the past few weeks at the regular press conferences when we get the chance to talk to Neil Adams.

Fingers are closer to pulses in the Norfolk press pack than you might think. However, the first question from the floor came as something of a shock.

Faced with a heavily loaded top table which included David McNally, Alan Bowkett, Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones and Michael Foulger alongside Adams, this was the City shareholders’ annual opportunity to get some answers.

Would the first question be about City’s rapidly deteriorating league form, Mike Phelan’s appointment or the financial cost of Premier League relegation? It was none of the above.

“Can you tell me why the Radio Norfolk commentary position has moved from above the tunnel?” I probably went redder than a defender who has just left his man unmarked at a corner.

On reflection, it was quite exciting to be at the centre of a burning issue and I’ve never felt more relevant. If only our friendly shareholder had been reading their EDP they would have known the answer from this column a few months ago.

Pouring over the wreckage left by the 2-1 defeat by Reading is like coming home to find you have disturbed a burglary. Something’s missing, it’s not immediately clear what and there is an awful lot of sorting out to do.

It was as if the Canaries players had decided to put on a 90-minute dramatic reconstruction of their season so far for the benefit of new first-team coach Mike Phelan.

Some promising attacks that faded away quicker than the career of an X Factor finalist at one end while at the other two more goals conceded that were so soft they could feature in a dreamy advert for a high-end brand of fabric conditioner.

All that was missing for Phelan was a stern American voiceover artist whispering “previously, at Carrow Road” in his ear before kick-off.

There’s no need for him to catch up on the yellow and green box set, the first 45 minutes of the Reading game were enough to bring Neil Adams’ new right-hand man up to speed.

In isolation this was one very disappointing defeat but the colour is draining out of the bigger picture very quickly.

Adams’ post-match “we are in a bad place” comment was underlined by three significant signs that what started as a ‘blip’ has already become something altogether less ‘blippy’ and more serious.

Firstly, those players not in the team are growing in value every week. The stricken Ryan Bennett and Wes Hoolahan, pictured, are both reliable Championship performers but the longer they go unscarred by sitting out a dreadful run which currently stands at one win in 10 matches, the more they get held up as potential saviours.

The same thing happened to Elliott Bennett last season. His long-term injury meant he missed all but two games of City’s Premier League campaign. With each week that went by and as a relegation battle became a losing one he was missed more and more by the fantasy football managers in the stands. When that starts happening it’s clear that trouble is brewing.

The same goes for the level of activity on the Canary Call phone lines. The BBC Radio Norfolk switchboard was jammed solid on Saturday as fans searched for an outlet at which to vent their spleen.

During the successive promotions brought on by the Paul Lambert regime, spurious debates about the usefulness or otherwise of playing music at the ground to celebrate goals had to be started to winkle a few callers out of the woodwork.

It stands to reason that people are moved to pick up the phone when they’re unhappy rather than satisfied. I bet your energy supplier has a ‘Complaints Hotline’ but no ‘Praise Hotline’. I’ve never phoned my electricity provider to thank them for their hard work.

Lastly, and perhaps most worrying, is the increasing hostility being exchanged between players and fans on social media.

It’s wonderful to be able to get unedited, honest opinions from players after a game. They get well paid and so have to suck up some of the inevitable criticism that will come their way as being part of the job but when constructive comment makes way for 140 characters worth of abuse it is a sad state of affairs.

There was a TV shot of Mike Phelan in the dugout on Saturday and his jaw was going 10 to the dozen as he turned a piece of gum round and round in his mouth like a sizeable chip off the old Sir Alex Ferguson block. But has he bitten off more than he can chew?

As his own American voiceover artist might say, “stay tuned for the next exciting instalment”.

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