The love affair with Alex Neil has come to an end for Norwich City fans
PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 December 2016
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There’s nothing worse than that moment at the end of a love affair when the scales fall from your eyes and you suddenly realise that the person you’d idolised actually has feet of clay.
That’s pretty much where I am with Alex Neil. When he arrived he was a breath of fresh air and galvanised the whole club, culminating in that glorious day at Wembley and I wanted him to stay forever.
I didn’t blame him for relegation from the Premier League, despite some tactical errors, because I felt that he had been badly let down by the club’s unambitious recruitment policy and a group of players who never seemed to produce when the pressure was on.
I wasn’t even too worried after the defeat at home to Preston. City had been on a great run of results without playing particularly well and it was always going to end sometime, because that’s Championship football. Anyway, that would be just the stimulus for City to kick on again.
However, since the disaster at Brighton things have gone steadily downhill, but more importantly the manager’s demeanour has changed out of all recognition. Suddenly “the buck stops with me” has given way to potentially divisive remarks about the players at the AGM and attacks on the local media at the weekly press conference.
I would never have expected to see the old Alex Neil buckle under pressure, but these are worrying signs. There seems to be a siege mentality developing and while that may unite the dressing room against its perceived enemies it could equally result in a culture of collective self pity.
Despite the post match spin, the Derby game was hardly a renaissance. It’s true that City looked more organised and competitive in the first half than in recent games, but after half-time the familiar malaise set in as Derby, whose very ordinariness served to prove how poor this league actually is, got more and more control.
While the goal was unfortunate, City’s failure to deny time and space to a player known for his long distance strikes was sadly predictable, as was the bizarre mix-up between the centre-backs when under no pressure moments earlier which had nearly gifted Derby a goal.
However, what really summed up the rut into which City have slumped was the fact that even when chasing the game their build-up play was beyond ponderous. At one point with a couple of minutes of normal time left a move involving 14 consecutive passes saw City advance a full five yards towards the opposition goal, while the Derby back four metaphorically sat in armchairs smoking cigars. At least the away section was full of gallows humour with a rousing chorus of “You’re getting backed in the morning” (and no, that’s not a typo) and a lengthy rendition of the Bradley Johnson song book.
While I personally have no qualms with the club’s decision to sell him, such adulation for a player who’d just scored against City shows how much the fans value commitment and passion, perhaps because there seems so little of it on show from the current squad.
With City now closer to the bottom three than the top two in terms of points, something has to give, and pretty quickly.
Even now automatic promotion seems to be slipping out of reach and the play-offs are always going to be something of a lottery.
Time and games are ticking away with no convincing signs of improvement, and with a vital transfer window ahead we are fast reaching a critical point.
Even now I would still love to see Neil turn things around and again become the man who first arrived here, but I fear that boat has sailed.