We should not be surprised at this latest City capitulation
PUBLISHED: 07:40 06 March 2017
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It says a lot about this torrid season that Norwich reserved one of their worst performances for a game they had to win to have maintained any realistic hopes of salvaging a top-six finish.
The worst thing about it, of course, is that we’ve pre-empted a miserable end to the campaign for months now. City’s abject displays away from home are no longer shocking, they’ve become unsurprising. This isn’t a problem that has enveloped Alex Neil’s side during a crisis of confidence in this campaign. It has been endemic since the middle of last season.
Defeats at Stoke, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Swansea and Crystal Palace all spring to mind. Performances littered with errors, poor decision-making and calamitous defending. Traits that confined City to relegation and damning flaws which have put us all but out of play-off contention in early March.
Perhaps a more ambitious, pro-active club would have relieved Neil of his duties 12 months ago when City picked up just one point from 30 in a run that would eventually cost the club its place among English football’s elite.
In hindsight, we know it was the wrong decision to stick by him. Back then, though, many fans shared the Board’s feeling that a man who had led us to play-off final glory deserved to be given the chance to win another promotion.
A more reactive Board, though, would have cut its ties with Neil earlier this season after City slipped to seven defeats in nine games, during which period the club captain had publicly admitted the team had given up during a 5-0 mauling at Brighton.
You only have to look at recent events at Leicester for evidence of how unforgiving football has become. Sacking Neil earlier wouldn’t have been ruthless, it would have been pragmatic.
The same mistake was made in 2013-14 when in the November of that season Norwich were thrashed 7-0 at Manchester City. The Board allowed Chris Hughton’s team to sleepwalk into relegation before replacing him with a complete novice with five games left.
Post-Paul Lambert there has been a culture of acceptance among some supporters and the club’s heirachy that too much shouldn’t be expected of Norwich City. The rhetoric has always been that it’s difficult for a club like Norwich to survive in the Premier League, to compete, to achieve.
Comparable clubs, though, have shown us up on that front. Swansea were promoted with City in 2011. In the time Norwich have endured two relegations, Swansea have retained their top-flight status and won the League Cup. Southampton followed in 2012 and have one of the most enviable academies in the country. Leicester City are Premier League champions.
While managers have come and gone at all of those clubs, the infrastructure has been in place for them to thrive in the top league, not just be happy to make up the numbers and accept their fate as relegation candidates.
Norwich’s Premier League struggles may be expected, but failing to mix it with the best in the Championship certainly isn’t.
With the exception of Newcastle, the current City squad would have been the envy of every manager in the league back in August. While Neil has failed in utilising his players to the best of their abilities, those individuals are by no means exempt from blame.
Senior professionals whom the manager has shown continued loyalty to have repeatedly underperformed when the going has got remotely tough throughout this season. Two points from eight matches against the top six is an unacceptable return for a side whose sole ambition was promotion. Unfortunately, the remaining four fixtures against those teams are all but irrelevant.
Cameron Jerome’s painfully honest assessment of the situation post-match at Hillsborough, while commendable, is proof that there is something seriously wrong in the dressing room. The goings on at Boardroom level with the appointment and subsequent sacking of a chief executive within months is further proof that it extends to the heart of the club.