How much longer must we put up with performances like that?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There's a depressing predictability about Norwich City at the moment.
The much used refrain 'Along Came Norwich' couldn't have been more apt for this visit to Loftus Road. A faltering opponent with just one home win since the opening day welcoming back a returning manager to usher in a new era of optimism. If Ian Holloway had any inkling of Norwich's record in situations just like this, he must have rubbed his hands with glee.
Alex Neil's team selections in recent weeks have prompted a barrage of criticism. Despite a run of awful results he had remained loyal to under-performing players. But while the personnel changed this time around, the outcome remained exactly the same.
It's difficult to find a new adjective to describe what has been served up to Norwich fans of late. When Russell Martin admitted his teammates had 'given up' at the Amex Stadium, the reaction had to be immediate and drastic. What has followed is two back-to-back error-strewn defeats that have left Neil delivering the same rhetoric in his post-match interviews, reiterating the need to work hard in training to turn things around.
The fact remains that for well over a year there has been little evidence of any defensive work undertaken at Colney coming to fruition on a match day. Granted, Martin Olsson's almost comedic handball and sending off so early on Saturday made it an uphill battle, but having 10 men doesn't legislate for the lack of effort in Seb Bassong's attempt at marking Sebastian Polter for the first goal.
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It's become an all too familiar sight, no matter who is in the team. Norwich defenders have been repeatedly outmuscled, outfought and outwitted by the opposition at set -pieces all season. In this instance, Polter didn't even have to out jump Bassong who remained rooted to the spot as the German striker rose to provide the assist.
The inability to perform the most basic of defensive tasks is being exposed week after week in Neil's teams. If the Scot hasn't been able to sort the problem up to this point, what gives us any indication he will do so going forward?
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Kyle Lafferty's absence from the starting line-up was hardly surprising given the lack of game time he has been afforded in Neil's reign, but that in itself is the problem. After scoring what should have been a great equaliser against Leeds a fortnight ago, and scoring again for Northern Ireland in the international break, he remained on the bench while Nelson Oliveira, without a league goal since March, was given the nod ahead of him.
Listen to any pundit outside of Norfolk and you're likely to hear that City are still favourites to make the play-offs, that this run of earning just one point from the last 15 is just a blip and that Neil has what it takes to turn things around.
For the majority of us who have watched the recent demise from closer quarters however their optimism is viewed with a pinch of cynicism. The problems seem endemic, Neil is beginning to sound like a broken record and on the pitch the team looks like one that is going out expecting to be beaten.
The problems go deeper than Neil's management and that's the biggest concern of all.
If the board were to wield the axe and replace him, would a new manager be given the resources needed to make the necessary changes to this squad in the January transfer window? And if so, is the recruitment and scouting structure capable of identifying the right players to be brought in to resurrect a season that is in danger of becoming Norwich's worst since being relegated to League One?
While this may seem a dramatic analysis of City's current plight, belief among supporters that Neil can mastermind the kind of result at Derby that can act as a catalyst to kick-start our faltering season seems almost as lacking as that we are seeing from the players on the pitch.