Return to form by Norwich City is welcome – shame about the timing...
PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 April 2017 | UPDATED: 08:21 29 April 2017
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Isn’t it just typical of City’s frustrating season that we’ve seen such a belated upturn in form?
Unable to beat promotion-chasing teams when the chips were down, the wins against Reading, Preston and Brighton, rather than being a cause for celebration, are just reminders of what could have been had the undoubted flair in this squad been matched with the mental strength and sheer bloody mindedness that’s needed to succeed in the Championship when it really mattered.
That’s not to say that City haven’t played well and thoroughly deserved those wins, but it still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth that such performances couldn’t be produced while promotion was still a real possibility.
Nevertheless, last Friday evening was highly enjoyable, with the celebrating Brighton fans helping to generate a party atmosphere in the stands, and an absolute masterclass from Alex Pritchard on the pitch.
Friends who watched the game on Sky TV tell me that Alex Neil, a studio guest for the game, was apparently still struggling to comprehend what had gone wrong for him at Carrow Road, but the performance of Pritchard, a player he almost totally marginalised, should have provided him with some insight.
Which leads me neatly on to Alan Irvine, who surely deserves credit for taking over a sinking ship, restoring some tenacity to City’s performances and, most importantly, giving Pritchard the chance to take centre stage.
While he will inevitably be seen as the last vestige of a failed regime, his openness and honesty in his dealings with the media, and the obvious respect that he has elicited from the players, make him the perfect antidote to the denial and finger pointing that marked the latter stages of the Neil era.
And while on the subject of plaudits it was great to see Russell Martin mark his 300th City appearance with victory over his home town club, but sad to learn that a small section of “fans” had felt the need to boo the announcement.
Martin hasn’t had the greatest of seasons, although he’s hardly alone in that, but for a player to show such loyalty to a club is something that is sadly becoming increasingly rare in today’s money-obsessed game and is worthy of respect, not derision.
I well remember his very first game for City in League One, and the key role he played in the rise to the Premier League under Paul Lambert. Since then he has become an international regular and has never shirked a difficult interview in his role as club captain. Regardless of his form on the pitch he has always been a credit to Norwich City off it.
Inevitably, with Stuart Webber’s plans to radically change the makeup of the squad over the summer being widely reported in the media and on blog sites there is plenty of speculation about which players will stay and who will go.
Clearly the 10 players who are out of contract in the summer would seem to be favourites to leave, although that number includes Louis Thompson, who looked impressive before his season-ending injury, as well as John Ruddy, on whom the club have a one-year option.
As for the identity of the new head coach, this weekend’s opposing manager, Garry Monk, has been widely mentioned in the press this week.
Monk had an impressive first full season at Swansea but was unable to follow it up and then guided Leeds towards the play-offs before an alarming drop off in form which threatens to leave them just short.
Whether he fits the style of management that Webber seems to have in mind is open to debate and I still have a sneaking feeling that we will see a foreign manager in charge at Carrow Road next season, but I’ve heard enough from Webber to have faith that he will find the right man to take Norwich City forward.