Step in the right direction – but I’ll reserve judgment

PUBLISHED: 07:41 07 January 2017

Nelson Oliveira celebrates his second goal. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Nelson Oliveira celebrates his second goal. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

©Focus Images Limited +447814 482222

Most City fans will see 2016 as a year to forget. Following a tame relegation another underwhelming summer transfer window which failed to address chronic defensive issues led into a Championship season that started promisingly, at least in terms of results, but appeared to have slipped into terminal decline as the year petered out.

While most fans saw automatic promotion as a tough ask at the start of August, I don’t think that many of us could have foreseen that City would enter 2017 in 12th place with only two wins in their previous 12 league games and playing turgid, error-strewn football under a manager who appeared to have lost his way.

However, the more worrying development of the year was the growing lack of connection between the club and the fans, exacerbated by the replacement of David McNally, who seemed happy to communicate regardless of how well or badly things were going, by Jez Moxey, inset, who appears reluctant to appear in anything other than sanitised in-house PR exercises.

Unfortunately, in any information vacuum, speculation inevitably proliferates and the extended silence from the upper levels of the club has led to an inevitable increase in damaging rumour and innuendo.

The game at Griffin Park was a fitting finale to the year, a tedious midfield mess in which City’s occasional moments of quality were betrayed by some truly appalling finishing which, allied with the home side’s total lack of ambition, made for a torrid experience for fans crammed into seats with insufficient leg room for a five-year-old.

However, Monday was a completely different story as City produced some brilliant football to sweep Derby aside, although there was an underlying feeling of frustration that we had had to wait so long for such a performance.

It also raised the question of why City’s most creative player and most accomplished defender had spent the best part of 10 games kicking their heels on the bench while the side spluttered going forward and creaked alarmingly at the back.

While Alex Neil felt the need to refer back to his Manager of the Month award in September before suggesting that he had been the subject of a witch hunt in recent weeks it’s hard not to conclude that his own stubbornness has contributed to his situation.

While I understand on a human level that the criticism that Neil has had to endure over the last couple of months must have hurt, it would surely have been better to let the excellent performance speak for itself and then seek to push on.

Petulance impresses no one.

One good win doesn’t make criticism of losing eight games out of 10 invalid and I suspect that any small steps towards getting fans back onside were negated in the course of a couple of rash sentences.

Clearly Neil and his players have to build on Monday’s performance and result, but the transfer window is also critical and will tell us much about the club’s ambition.

Neil was keen to emphasise that City must sell to buy after the match, so I would expect at least one high profile departure very shortly.

However, the key is what sort of players come in and how much dead wood can be offloaded from the wage bill, because there are too many players in the squad who are nowhere near the team yet drawing good money.

With City five points off the play-off places, the season is not yet a total write off, although it could easily have been by now, but we have seen so many false dawns this season that you will have to excuse me if I’m not turning cartwheels about one result, even though Monday was a welcome step in the right direction.

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