Still plenty of issues facing Alex Neil and his new right-hand man at Norwich City

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Grant Holt goes in for a tackle which earns him a second yellow, and a 41st-minute

FROM THE ARCHIVE: Grant Holt goes in for a tackle which earns him a second yellow, and a 41st-minute dismissal, during Norwich City's 1-0 win against Brentford at Carrow Road in January 2010, courtesy of a goal from Chris Martin in the 77th minute. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Archant © 2010

I suspect that few people were surprised at the news that Mike Phelan had left the club on Tuesday.

In truth, he has never looked particularly comfortable since arriving and, with Frankie McAvoy on the way, his position was virtually untenable.

I can fully understand why Alex Neil would want someone he has worked with for 10 years, and clearly trusts, alongside him, rather than a coach he hardly knows appointed by someone else.

Neil is already coming across as someone who is quite comfortable with solving his own problems, and last week's game demonstrated that he still has several to deal with.

A strangely flat Cardiff side were unable to cope with the home team's high intensity approach and confident passing in the opening 45 minutes, but even so there were warning signs on the odd occasions that they made it to City's penalty area. However, with goals arriving at regular intervals at the other end we were all looking forward to a relaxing second period. We really should know better by now.


You may also want to watch:


Although they started the second half well, City hit a wall thereafter.

We know that Neil likes his sides to have a high work rate, but I'm concerned that City's rather disjointed pre-season could now come back to haunt them. A number of players looked to be running out of steam around the hour mark and, as Neil pointed out, this resulted in some poor decision-making.

Most Read

The problem is that it's hard to increase stamina levels in mid-season when there is a need to both work on tactics and to ensure that players aren't worked to a point where they pick up pulls and strains which cost them games. It's one thing to push players to their physical limits in the July heat, but quite another in a freezing mid-winter.

Fortunately for City their first-half dominance meant that Cardiff were running out of steam too and they looked dead on their feet in the final 10 minutes or so.

Of course players tire physically as games go on, but City created extra problems for themselves in a 10-minute period in which the familiar dilemma of whether to continue to push for goals or consolidate arose again, resulting in periods of aimless possession and silly errors, with the first Cardiff goal coming as no surprise to anyone.

What will infuriate Neil is the fact that it was a carbon copy of Bournemouth's goal the previous week. A high floated cross beyond the far post again found a City player (Martin Olsson this time) day-dreaming underneath the dropping ball, blissfully unaware of an opponent showing a real desire to get there first. Of course the second was even worse and would have embarrassed the manager of a Sunday morning pub team.

Brian Clough used to talk about wanting moral courage from his players. What he meant was a preparedness to do more than simply take the easy option and a desire to be in the thick of things whatever the state of the game.

In recent City history, Grant Holt would be the perfect embodiment of this, but Saturday was hardly the first time this season we've seen City players look like world beaters while on top, but unsure and indecisive when the pressure was on them.

With Brentford on an impressive run of form, City are likely to be subjected to an even more thorough examination this afternoon and they need to start to show the ruthlessness that will be needed if they are to challenge for the top spots.

Neil's side are still a work in progress, but a win today would kick-start a climb up the table.

Concentrating for the full 90 minutes might help.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus