A Year on and not much has changed

CHRIS LAKEY Appalling… Black Country rubbish… Catastrophic… Disgraceful ... You get the message - there's a letter of the alphabet for every word you need to describe Norwich's performance at Wolves on Saturday.


Appalling… Black Country rubbish… Catastrophic… Disgraceful

You get the message - there's a letter of the alphabet for every word you need to describe Norwich's performance at Wolves on Saturday. What there isn't is a word which helps adequately explain just what went wrong.

This was truly one of the worst performances you will see in the Championship this season, no matter who you follow. From the time Steve Bennett rattled the pea for the kick-off to the time that the two minutes (thank you, Mr Fourth Official) of time added on ended, it was dire.

Two goals that could have been avoided, two sendings off - Jason Shackell and Julien Brellier - that could have been avoided, and even then City escaped, because Wolves were shockingly wasteful in front of goal. You know when you hear people say “it should have been six”? Well, it should have been six.

And not only was it dire, it was horribly reminiscent of events of a year ago, when City trooped off the pitch at Home Park, Plymouth, after a 3-1 defeat which spelled the end for Nigel Worthington. Eight days later, Burnley came to Carrow Road, went home 4-1 winners, Worthy was out of a job and Peter Grant was filling in his application form.

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Nothing much has changed much since then, unless you count the omnipresent Scottish accents at Carrow Road and the different personalised number plates in the car park - different numbers, same cars. Oh, and City were three places better off than they are today.

Apart from a few instances- most notably the wins over Birmingham, Cardiff and West Brom - the Championship's upper crust have not been unduly affected by the presence of Norwich City in their division.

Give it time, we said. Fair enough, although no one ever stipulated just how much time you donate to the cause.

The more you give it, the longer Norwich City are going to be stuck in the Championship, or worse, because on this evidence there are an awful lot more questions to be asked of the club, the managerial staff and the players.

Tomorrow, the club will announce its annual accounts. They won't be pretty, and it appears that Grant knows exactly where he stands as far as the coffers are concerned; there's no more parachute money coming in and unless he can clear someone off the wage bill, he isn't going to get much coming in the other way. Which is not what Norwich fans want to hear, because some class is what they desperately need to see.

And while hard-up Southampton can go and get a Premiership defender (Christian Dailly, not that City fans would want him here) in on a month's loan, we're being told that City can't compete in that market. We're also being told that Grant won't bring in inferior players, just to make up the numbers. So where the hell does he go with his begging bowl?

And while he constantly bemoans the loss of midfielders Jimmy Smith and Mark Fotheringham, shouldn't it be pointed out that the former is only here until December and that Fotheringham started only nine league games in the final four months of the season and had been a sub for just two this season before suffering an injury? Some would choose to build their midfield on different parameters.

Managers with only a few quid can go one of two ways: spend a little on a lot or a lot on a little. Worthington opted for quality with a few very average add-ons and spent big on Darren Huckerby, Dean Ashton and Robert Earnshaw. Huckerby helped earn promotion, Ashton almost saved us from relegation while Earnshaw might, had injury not intervened, still have been here because he might just have brought us promise. Yes, there were failings: the names Jason Jarrett and Peter Thorne spring to mind.

But Grant has gone the other way, bringing in 12 new players while shipping out 10 others, and while the sales of Earnshaw and Dickson Etuhu weren't in his plans, they did bring in £5m. So 12 in, 10 out - surely the difference in costs between the players in the in tray and those in the out tray are negligible, unless I'm over-estimating some. Isn't Youssef Safri worth about the same, if not more, than Julien Brellier or Darel Russell? Is Jurgen Colin that much different from Jon Otsemobor? Is Luke Chadwick or Chris Brown more highly valued than Paul McVeigh?

Grant needs money, but the £2m interest free loan from new directors Andrew and Sharon Turner, generous as it was, isn't going to solve the major problems the club faces. Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones say they won't sell to any old Tom, Dick or Harry fly-by-night investor because they don't want the club to fall into the wrong hands. Very noble and much appreciated - but while we wait for the right person to come along, the hopes of rubbing shoulders with Sir Alex Ferguson again are becoming more a dodgy fantasy than a realistic hope.

The manager says he knows the players he needs but can't afford them. I hate to say this, but Jim Magilton hasn't got any money either so he's stuck in home-grown players and if they aren't consistent, they sure as hell are providing Ipswich fans with a mini roller-coaster ride which they're not likely to forget in a hurry: one week they ship four, the next week they score four. But they shipped four playing well. Norwich conceded only two (even Grant couldn't explain that one away) at Wolves, but they were rubbish in the process.

So where are the young players? Bally Smart has gone to MK Dons on loan - he, by the way, is the fastest thing on two legs at the club. Goalkeeper Joe Lewis is good enough for the England Under-21 squad but hasn't played a single senior game for Norwich. Andrew Cave-Brown is a really steady right back - never played under Grant.

And Chris Martin? His appearance as a sub at Wolves on Saturday was his first league involvement this season.

They all have plenty to learn but it's too late to blood some of the young lads now; it wouldn't be fair to bring them into a side as poor as this one.

Grant has to make do with he has got: unless the board relent and somehow find some cash for him to work with.

And the players? Not one of them would offer any excuses for Saturday's performance. David Marshall might be excuses criticism, Gary Doherty too, after his manful efforts, although I dare say he will be the target for plenty of mouth-foaming again. Shackell was doing well until the red mist descended. But too many others looked scared to be the innovator, scared to try something different, scared to break loose of the shackles. Michael Kightly did for Wolves and, yet again, the £25,000 buy from non-league football embarrassed City.

An interesting sight after the final whistle was seeing Wolves manager Mick McCarthy - who must have been frustrated his team hadn't scored more goals - call the whole squad into a huddle on the pitch. In a closed circle, McCarthy spoke to them and then everyone shook hands.

There was a unity there that was in complete contrast to the rag tag jumble that trudged off into the away dressing room.