Paddy Davitt: Norwich City marching to a different beat
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Marching on Together reverberated around Carrow Road at the end. Once the boos had died down from a Norwich City collective who look anything but united.
Alex Neil has the unflinching support of the club's owners. That much was reiterated on the eve of a third straight Championship defeat. He also has a growing disenchantment among a restless fan base and a set of players bereft of confidence that was brought into sharp focus as the Leeds hordes belted out their anthem.
The public backing from on high ensures Neil will get time. But that commodity is precious and each passing instalment fuels frustration.
Leeds was not another Brighton in the scale of the defeat yet it was just as troubling. The spotlight on the south coast was squarely on an under-performing collection of young men. Now it shines brightest on Neil himself. The loyalty shown in his selections went unrewarded. The same group who failed at Brighton and now Leeds look constricted by the turmoil of recent events. They are repeating the same mistakes, displaying the same passivity, creating a dwindling number of chances and trooping dejectedly from football pitches for fresh inquests.
Neil will rightly use a growing injury list and Alex Tettey's suspension as mitigation why he opted for largely the same personnel, but his key decisions before and during games now appear laced with stubbornness.
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Jacob Murphy was introduced from the bench just as Norwich prepared to restart after Chris Wood had put Leeds in front. Nelson Oliveira similarly entered the fray at Brighton moments after Lewis Dunk had effectively sealed the Seagulls' victory. These are not coincidences. Neil's reticence to use his resources to alter the flow of a game is a long-held charge. It is symptomatic of a reactive outlook and a management group beset by self-doubt.
Norwich's general approach now seems out of sync with the rhythm of the Championship; certainly against better teams who possess technical proficiency married to hard work.
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Set aside another calamitous gaffe from Michael McGovern, in the manner he palmed Ronaldo Vieira's 35-yard shot into his own net, and the bitter truth is Norwich barely deserved the point which looked in their grasp from Kyle Lafferty's late leveller. Leeds were better on the ball and better without it. They looked a cohesive unit, comfortable in possession and able to change gear with pace down the flanks and a presence in the penalty area.
Norwich weave intricate patterns in ever-decreasing circles in non-threatening areas as Cameron Jerome cuts an increasingly isolated figure. When Norwich cough up the ball cheaply they have too many midfielders unable to meld defensive resolution to fitful creative output.
Louis Thompson was an exception on his first league start for Norwich because he displayed the energy and dynamism to match those in white shirts.
Neil has a fortnight freed from the relentless pressure of trying to halt the downturn to find a formula that stops leaking goals in ridiculous quantities, frittering away points and ultimately losing further ground.
The tried and trusted is failing. He needs to be radical and ruthless in selection and approach; to correct the imbalances in Norwich's style of play to afford greater protection to a creaking defence and to re-discover some sustained attacking potency.
The presence of his old Barnsley team-mate Garry Monk was a timely reminder he can do it. Neil's bold revision this time last year earned a priceless Premier League win against Monk's Swansea. City let a toothless visiting team pass themselves to a standstill before pinching the points. That victory revealed Norwich had a manager willing to change course.
Neil must embark on the same journey of discovery again. The status quo can last only so long.