Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City fluff their lines on the Premier League stage
09:05 18 January 2016
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Much has been made about Norwich City’s Premier League quality. This desperate defeat raised questions whether they have the stomach for a fight.
"The team who seemingly went through the motions at the Vitality Stadium bore no resemblance to the combative Neil or his fearless methods."
Neil’s post-match verdict was brutal and honest. Bournemouth, to a man, appeared to want it more. That is a sad indictment when you consider the massive prize on the horizon for retaining the Canaries’ cherished Premier League status.
It is also an affront, you can reasonably surmise, to the professional pride of Neil, his coaching staff and his players. For the first time perhaps since arriving in these parts, the Scot was short-changed in a basic desire and willingness to compete that should be a staple for a club like Norwich operating in deep waters.
The team who seemingly went through the motions at the Vitality Stadium bore no resemblance to the combative Neil or his fearless methods. Norwich visibly wilted and eventually crumbled as Bournemouth raided down the flanks with apparent impunity.
Neil, to his credit, refused to accept ready-made excuses. Norwich had a day less to prepare than the Cherries, given the quirks of the midweek fixture list, and a second consecutive away trip in three days to contend with after playing with 10 men for more than an hour on a windswept night in the Potteries.
But there was undeniably a marked contrast in the energy and intent with which Eddie Howe’s home side savagely set about the visitors in an opening 25 minutes which set the depressing tone.
Individual aberrations and basic errors were the dominant theme of Norwich’s autumnal struggles until a magnificent response over the festive period. Now it is chronic inconsistency that threatens to cast a shadow over what lies ahead.
The same set of players who superbly overcame Manchester United is capable of serving up dross at Watford and now Bournemouth. That elusive search for more measured output is producing the sweetest of highs, such as a first win at Old Trafford since 1989, tinged with a worrying sense of drift and the continued squandering of hard-earned momentum.
Neil knows he is the man responsible for flattening out City’s progress and productivity. That fertile period around the turn of the year underlined he has a group of players who are capable of coping in the Premier League, but whether they can sustain it for any length of time is the key.
The Scot rightly demanded a sense of perspective must be allowed to settle once fresh disappointment recedes. That was in short supply at the final whistle after a defeat made all the more painful given it came against one of their direct rivals and was sealed by a striker who Neil coveted last summer.
The tone of his summer mission statement has never altered. Norwich will have bad days, games when they fail to perform or fail to bridge the divide and afternoons when there are more questions than answers. Those who made the pilgrimage south, and the ones who stayed behind, must deal with the rising self-doubt and that nauseous feeling welling inside. City’s supporters have been here before in recent times, yet it would be wrong to draw the same conclusions.
Norwich, under Neil, have always responded to adversity, right from the day he took over at Bournemouth in January 2015, when Jonny Howson’s red card prompted a telling switch from the directors’ box in a move which has now assumed almost mythical proportions in the life story of the Canaries’ young manager.
A week to forget will not define the destiny of a season still firmly in the grip of Neil and his squad. Norwich failed their big audition at Bournemouth to pull further clear of the bottom three, but Liverpool is a new chapter, a fresh page.
The Norwich chief felt there were more redeeming features to this defeat than a no show at Watford or the second half collapse at Newcastle. But the manner of City’s capitulation, both individually and collectively, was a troubling interlude and further proof even at such an advanced stage this set of players can exhibit alarming frailty.
But they are also capable of resolution and fighting spirit and, it is worth documenting in the midst of fresh navel-gazing, the quality required to prevail in the Premier League.
We know this because for every Watford, Newcastle and now Bournemouth Neil’s squad can throw Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United on the table.
Neil is unlikely to tolerate a repeat of this latest surrender on the south-coast, and neither should his under-performing players. The limited rations they served at Bournemouth were unacceptable. It is not about reactions against the Reds, it is about proving they belong.