Alex Neil needs to mould style with steel to get Norwich City back to winning ways
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Securing survival was never going to be easy for Norwich City this season – but few expected a match at Carrow Road to finish with booing so early in the campaign.
Losing to West Brom inflicted a third successive defeat on City for the first time under Alex Neil and for the first time since the tail-end of the ill-fated 2013/14 top-flight season.
Narrow home defeats to Leicester and the Baggies have sandwiched a 6-2 humbling at Newcastle.
That worrying downturn in fortunes seem to have sparked vocal frustrations from some that are perhaps out of proportion with the efforts Neil's team are putting in.
It is trips to Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as a visit from Arsenal, in the next four games which prompted the added nerves among some fans.
However this is not a team that have downed tools or looked like they don't care – it is a team grasping for answers as to why their efforts are proving insufficient.
It is difficult to disguise body language and there was plenty to suggest that Tony Pulis' side keeping City at arm's length had been particularly painful.
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Pulis is the prime example of what it takes to establish a team in the top flight – and it isn't pretty.
In the early stages of Saturday's encounter there was only one team which looked like they were going to win the game.
Neil's entertainers were at their fluid best with the ball, swamping the Albion players with their movement, passing and confidence in possession. The visitors were ready for it though.
The Baggies sat so deep that it was almost impossible for a City player to find themselves offside.
The experienced central pairing of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans gave City's lone striker Dieumerci Mbokani little room to manoeuvre, as they repelled anything they could.
Neil had said in the run-up to the game that the first goal would be crucial – and Pulis knew it as well.
His side planned to absorb everything the hosts could throw at them so when Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Howson both fired chances over the crossbar in the opening 10 minutes, City's desperation for that opening goal grew.
At the same time, evidence of defensive vulnerability to counter-attacks remained evident, with Chris Brunt given the space to test John Ruddy with a long-range effort from his powerful left foot in the seventh minute.
The warning signs were there. So when Nathan Redmond saw a shot well saved by Boaz Myhill and blasted another wide as well, the pendulum really began to swing.
The Canaries regressed and started losing belief.
Brunt's deflected shot in the 40th minute forced Ruddy to scramble the ball behind and Craig Dawson headed the ball into the ground and over the bar from a corner.
Russell Martin – returned to right-back due to the recall of Ryan Bennett at centre-back – then gave James McClean the freedom to whip in a wonderful cross just before half-time and Salomon Rondon somehow managed to head over.
The hosts had disappeared into their shells and there were some worried looks around Carrow Road during the break.
Albion smelt blood and a rapid counter within the first minute of the second half again saw Martin culpable in his positioning as Berahino set McClean free down the left, with Rondon making the most of another sumptuous cross this time.
From there, things went from bad to worse for City.
Sebastien Bassong's aimless rampage forward prompted a collective holding of breath in the home support as they waited for him to inevitably lose the ball, which he did.
Another moment to sum up City's afternoon saw McClean allowed to skip from one side of the pitch to the other without any City player making a meaningful tackle – increasing the exasperation among the home faithful.
With the Canaries struggling to mount any serious fightback or goal threat, an angry burst of boos greeted the full-time whistle, as past pains reared their ugly heads.
City's 'boring' style under Chris Hughton – so similar to that deployed by Saturday's victors – was hounded out of Norfolk.
The return of fun, swashbuckling football under Neil has subsequently forged strong bonds with the Canaries support.
Now the Scot has to find a way of moulding those two styles together and get his side back to winning ways.