Norwich City’s humiliating night in Middlesbrough needs a proper response in Nottingham
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Sometimes words count for so little, all they do is mark the time between one result and its subsequent reaction or fallout – which is where Norwich City found themselves a few times last season, and now for the first time this.
While carrying out the live coverage duties on pinkun.com from the Riverside Stadium on Tuesday night, the one word that kept appearing from my keyboard in between thumps on the press box desk was 'horrible'.
Be it the players' decision-making, defending, attempts at quality in the final third or in the latter stages, attitude; all could and often did find the H-word as a prefix.
Much has been made over captain Russell Martin's employment at centre-back over his previously regular role at right-back – but for me, it's really just a sideshow.
Martin will have good and bad games, like anyone. But in reality and having watched him for several seasons, I believe he is as good in either position – and that debating point was far from the cause of Norwich's midweek humiliation.
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Yes, there were a number of individual mistakes. But many of those were a symptom of the circumstances – where City's midfield bombed on with such disregard for defending, the back four were often exposed to the point of breaking.
That, plus the fact Middlesbrough did a brilliant job of ensuring when City's possession did break down, they had men already waiting the wrong side of the midfield to counter – something helped by a quick, high-energy attacking line-up.
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The whole show offered a lot of evidence to the theory that the way to play against Norwich City is there – for any Championship side good enough to pull it off. And Boro were most certainly that.
City's reaction in Nottingham on Saturday will make for fascinating viewing – both on the City Ground pitch, but also before that with Neil Adams' team sheet.
For such a now-renowned 'big squad', any player on the fringes that finds their chance still isn't arriving off the back of a horrible away defeat might start wondering if it will ever come at all.
The fact is, the Canaries – players, board and fans – are currently in the middle of an intriguing psychology experiment, from their early season euphoria to doubts carrying too many similarities to last season's Premier League demise.
And it's all being played on a background of numerous opponents still happily declaring City as those with the best squad, biggest riches and brightest chance at the Championship title this season.
Boro manager Aitor Karanka was at it before Tuesday's game, labelling City as a 'Premier League club'; the assumption is constantly declared that Norwich will be up there are the end of term, no matter what.
Yet the reality is, dish up more of what was produced on Tuesday night and City can kiss goodbye to any pretence of a top-flight return at the first time of asking – and maybe for much longer.
Not wishing to repeat my last column, but the penny needs to drop pretty quickly that City's potential quality is rendered irrelevant if they don't earn the right to show it.
It may sound harsh and all is clearly far from lost if you take just one quick look at the present table.
But Tuesday night felt like a watershed moment – with Saturday now set to tell us which direction the tide is headed.
• Just saying…
I remember being struck by the Sunderland supporters' groups who turned down a suggestion of their players offering a refund for that 8-0 Premier League drubbing earlier in the season.
They didn't want their money – they just wanted their players to sort themselves out. Not only was that a commendable attitude – it was the right one too. Paying a few quid is almost the easy way out, sometimes as easy as an apology.
Despite Tuesday night, there will be another terrific away following from Norwich at the City Ground, happy to pay their money in the hope of seeing a performance. So players, once again it's over to you.
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey