Tough times to come at Norwich City, but Alex Neil can prove his place at the top

Norwich City boss Alex Neil. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City boss Alex Neil. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The wise words of football's Mr Marmite, aka Neil Warnock, have carried a particular resonance since Sunday's day of doom at the Toon.

That's a line you probably were not expecting to read in a Norwich City column, but when discussing the club's Premier League chances a few weeks ago he got it absolutely spot on.

The former Crystal Palace, QPR and Sheffield United boss, kind enough to grant me an interview while in the area for a charity night, said at the time: 'The problem he'll (Alex Neil) have this year is that there will be a stage where he'll go five or six games without a win.

'His biggest test will be how he deals with that and to make sure he and the team don't get too down. The fans play a massive part and they will need to be patient.

'They just need to try not to panic and remember where they have come from.'

Of course we're not quite in this territory just yet, but a glance at the fixtures over the next few weeks shows that if Saturday's game against West Brom goes the way none of us want it to, and brings defeat, there's a very real risk that might change.

After the Baggies, the following five games in the league and cup throw-up away trips to Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea and home ties against Swansea and Arsenal.

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While the crazy world of the Premier League brings no guarantee of defeat in any game against the bigger clubs, it would be an understatement to say that run presents a challenge.

As far as our manager is concerned, we could be at the start of the most testing period of his short but successful managerial career so far.

Not only are his side about to do battle with some of the world's best managers and players, they do so on the back of two disappointing defeats and a draw that should have been a win.

They also have the knowledge this season's performances, while largely positive in their nature, have not brought with them the points he may have hoped and banked on.

That Norwich sit in 16th position with nine points from nine games is a disappointment when they have played well in the majority of those matches.

But that's the cruel world of sport at the very top. As Norwich have found out to their cost in the past, if you fail to make the most of the moments when things are going well, it is likely to come back and bite you.

It is now that Neil will need to prove his place amongst the league's elite managers.

As Warnock suggested, this week I'm sure he will have spent his time dishing out some uncomfortable home truths to his players – but also making sure they remain in a positive frame of mind.

He'll also need to find a way to ensure they learn from their mistakes, because too many of the goals Norwich have shipped so far have come from repeated errors that should have been eradicated.

And finally, come 3pm on Saturday, he'll have to make the right choices as to where any changes are needed to get the points that keep City clear of the dreaded relegation line.

Will he stick with a defence that is being breached all too regularly or give the likes of Andre Wisdom and Ryan Bennett the chance to shore up the leaks?

Bennett, in particular, is a player I've yet to be wholly convinced by during his stop-start City career, but he deserves to get his chance on Saturday afternoon, especially given how he commanded the line against our opponents in the cup.

Once those decisions are revealed, it will be the turn of City fans to take heed of Warnock's advice on what to do when the going gets tough by remaining patient, positive – and positively noisy.