Has the international break done all of us a favour?

Canaries striker - is it time to start him up front with Cameron Jerome?

Canaries striker - is it time to start him up front with Cameron Jerome? - Credit: Richard Blaxall/Focus Images Ltd

With the benefit of hindsight Alex Neil's job was obviously safe regardless of the result against Leeds. Both the glowing accolades from the majority shareholders in a Times piece in the week before the game and a pre-match radio interview with Jez Moxey gave a clear indication he had the backing of the board.

How long that can be sustained without a swift improvement in results is another matter, but I fear simply changing the manager may just serve to obscure deeper problems and let others off the hook.

Perhaps for once an international break has come at an opportune moment. Neil has been given time to reflect on recent events, fans and media have had a chance for a healthy debate about where the club is going and many players have had a break from a dressing room that appears to have been an unhappy place in recent weeks.

However, that brief hiatus is now over and it's back to business at Loftus Road. Once again City will be backed by a large travelling contingent who have shown a commitment to the cause in recent weeks that hasn't been matched on the pitch and they will demand and expect that, at the very least, City produce a performance that exudes desire and a never-say-die attitude.

The first area everyone will focus on will be team selection. Talking to people around the ground before the Leeds game it was clear most were surprised that, having promised changes after the Brighton debacle, Neil chose to make only two, one of which was enforced by suspension, and clearly it was a policy which failed utterly.


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The secondary issue will be the formation, and surely we will see some deviation from the 4-2-3-1 which appears to have been so comprehensively countered by opposing managers in recent weeks. To some extent I have sympathy for Neil, who was roundly castigated last season for making too many changes, but he does seem to have gone from one extreme to the other, and as results and performances decline admirable loyalty starts to look awfully like stubbornness.

However, my biggest concern continues to be the lack of leadership on the pitch. There is no sign of a big character like Grant Holt or Bradley Johnson who is prepared to crash into a tackle or get in an opponent's face to spark both his fellow players and the fans. In the cut and thrust of the Championship that's starting to look like a real handicap.

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Inevitably after the goal against Leeds and another for his country there will be calls for Kyle Lafferty, who has made all the right noises in interviews this week, to start alongside Cameron Jerome if Neil is prepared to field a less-packed midfield that has become his practice.

While the Irishman is a loose cannon, the fact that City currently appear about as dangerous as a popgun makes him a risk worth taking and he would at least bring some personality to a side that is sadly lacking in it, as well as a much-needed element of unpredictability.

There is a growing feeling that the club is very much at a crossroads regardless of the managerial situation. On the field an underachieving squad really has to perform between now and January or undergo radical surgery and off it the Utopian vision of a game which isn't dominated by money and in which a self-funding club can battle on a level playing field with international investors is likely to find itself increasingly at odds with the realities of modern football at the highest level.

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