Time is running out if Norwich City supporters are to have a spring in their step
PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 January 2015
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While it’s fair to say that it was only one game, and that performances and results had been improving, the trip to Reading was a wake-up call of seismic proportions.
Losing away from home to a struggling side is one thing, but the reality is that City simply didn’t turn up at the Madejski Stadium.
One thing that’s becoming clear about this league is that nothing works for too long before opposing managers find a way to counter it and City’s use of a narrow midfield was well and truly found out by Steve Clarke.
From the opening moments, when Martin Olsson was forced to dribble back towards his own corner flag under immense pressure, the home side ensured that neither City full-back would have the chance to bomb forward at will, so denying the Canaries any width.
As a result we saw a return to aimless sideways passing which played into the hands of a Reading side which showed a much greater appetite for hard work than their visitors.
City had early warnings but couldn’t raise their game and, once behind, they never really looked like bouncing back.
Even after Bradley Johnson’s goal, much of the remainder of the game was played in City’s half, mainly because the visitors proved utterly incapable of keeping the ball.
It was abject stuff and a real kick in the teeth for those who had headed to Berkshire with such high hopes.
What made it particularly hard to take was the clear improvement seen over the last few games, and while Sunday may have just been a blip, it’s yet another damaging loss in a season where automatic promotion, the board’s stated objective, is already looking unrealistic and will become even more so should City slip to defeat at Bournemouth next week.
The next few weeks are going to be pivotal. While there may be money in the kitty for a boost to the promotion push the reality is that this transfer window will not simply be about improving the squad as there will be bigger clubs sniffing around City’s key men once again, and this time they may be less easy to repel as players weigh up the likelihood of being back in the Premier League in a Norwich shirt next season.
We are fast approaching a point of no return and an extended run of wins is not just desirable but fundamental to any chance of making the play-offs.
As City surrendered point after point to mediocre opposition in October and November the mantra of those who felt that everything would work out fine was that City had a similar points tally to Paul Lambert’s promotion side. Absolutely true, but that side was virtually unbeatable after Christmas and I don’t currently sense the same bloody-minded self belief from the current squad, nor the willingness to get into a dogfight for vital points.
Whereas that squad had a core of steel, there still seems to be a worryingly soft centre to the current City set-up. There are depressingly few signs of the sort of ruthlessness possessed by Lambert’s team; the same ruthlessness that is currently being displayed down the road in Suffolk.
Ipswich may be limited, but they are consistently finding a way to win under a manager who knows how to sustain a promotion push.
City, on the other hand, still don’t seem to have established a firm identity as they try to balance Neil Adams’ desire for attractive passing football with the physical realities of the Championship.
Their problem is that time is fast running out and if City can’t hit the ground running in 2015 their promotion prospects could disappear without trace before the first signs of spring.