Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City’s uneasy truce at breaking point
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The end game in Norwich City's Championship spiral essentially hinges on a simple premise. Whether Alex Neil is part of the solution or part of the problem.
QPR merely confirmed what even the eternal optimist knows is true; this set of players appear incapable of embracing basic defensive responsibility. The manner of Martin Olsson's second-minute red card was bizarre as it was decisive; depriving the under-pressure Neil and his much-changed team any chance to implement what they had spent the international break working on. Yet the trigger for Olsson's dismissal came from another shocking abdication that allowed Nedum Onuoha to run unopposed into the Norwich penalty area to leap in tandem with team-mate Joel Lynch against Seb Bassong. That simple trigger set in motion a chain of events which effectively consigned Norwich to a fourth consecutive Championship defeat.
It was the smallest of small details but Norwich routinely find themselves the wrong side of the line now. It is not bad luck, it is not stunningly good play from committed opponents, it is a fundamental erosion of individual responsibility.
That includes Neil and his coaching brains, who prepare and select those who carry the club's colours, as much as the players entrusted with the task of implementing the manager's gameplan.
The pre-match focus on team spirit was flawed and misplaced. Professional footballers at this elite level are by definition selfish. That is how they reach the highest branches in such a competitive sport. It is the contradiction at the heart of the team game - Norwich's squad and their peers are survivors in the battle of football's fittest.
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Those haunted images showing dejected City players in the aftermath of each fresh concession during this toxic Championship run do not betray a lack of unity, they merely strip away the pretence. Too many of this squad are passing the buck, too many, you sense well away from the public glare, probably feel the fault lies elsewhere rather than with themselves. That is how they are conditioned to think to flourish in such a brutal profession.
That is why Neil, like every other manager before him, is ultimately the fall guy when things turn sour. He displayed loyalty to those who had failed so miserably at Brighton and got nothing but more misery in return against Leeds. Here he made wholesale changes with the same outcome. Olsson's calamitous dismissal merely feeds the sense the fates are conspiring against the Scot.
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Warm words from the owners and the chief executive prior to the international break will not protect him. The only currency that keeps Neil at Carrow Road is results and the balance of power now resides firmly with a restless fan base who in large numbers have lost faith.
One of the saddest facets of another miserable trip to Loftus Road was not the anger or the frustration you could palpably detect from a packed away end but audible traces of derision. Bassong's towering header to clear his lines was greeted with ironic cheers, a late corner at the opposite end celebrated as voluminously as Steven Naismith's goal, and Robbie Brady's wayward free kick met with a mocking burst of 'what a load of rubbish'.
Neil himself was implored by those who once feted him to 'sort it out' long before a belated response triggered by Jacob Murphy's curling effort that clipped the top of Alex Smithies' bar. Olsson's early exit, Naismith's late headed goal and the injury absences of men like Ivo Pinto and Jonny Howson may act as mitigation but there was still a depressing lack of application, appetite and attitude. These are desperate times for those who follow the men in green and yellow. Neil remains confident he can haul his team out of this mess but his fate would appear to rest on whether the club's top brass and loyal support share the same view.