Honesty is the best policy for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Neil's brutal post-match verdict was a sad indictment on the Norwich City players he inherited.
The Scot pledged to be totally honest with a highly-regarded squad after his unveiling earlier this month. Neil has been true to his word. Now they must be honest with themselves.Norwich have flattered to deceive for the majority of a Championship campaign that started inauspiciously at Wolves, where they were out-worked by a newly-promoted clubdripping in honest endeavour and admirable spirit.
So they succumbed again to another opponent operating two leagues below them last season; one who possess the added quality and the soaring confidence to match the sweat.
The same old tired excuses do not wash again; questionable officiating, inspired goalkeeping, debilitating injuries. Norwich's players have taken the easy way out far too often this campaign. So they did once more.
Neil himself will be scrutinised for his decision to deploy Steven Whittaker in a holding role alongside Bradley Johnson after Gary O'Neil had become the latest absentee to a depleted midfield on the eve of battle.
Whittaker was directly at fault for Brentford's opener, when his turnover was ruthlessly punished by a cohesive break from a club who show no signs of any inferiority complex or a trace of doubt about emerging as a bona fide contender.
Brentford should already have been in front inside the opening two minutes when Andre Gray's lack of composure carried far greater weight than the foibles of a pitch showing visible signs of wear and tear.
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City's midfield shield was pierced with embarrassing ease to expose a backline exhibiting the same fragility that has been evident too often since Molineux.
Neil rejected any mitigating circumstances, despite the loss of frontline options such as Alex Tettey and Jonny Howson even before O'Neil's departure. So too should the men he entrusted to build on a magnificently defiant shift at Bournemouth and a masterful hour against Cardiff.
If a game and a half is the maximum the new man is entitled to receive in total commitment and unflinching effort that is an affront to the professionalism of this Norwich squad.
City have stood and traded with the Cherries and Derby on their own turf in recent times. At Carrow Road they walk through flimsy opponents but they also retain the capacity to fold; just like at Wolves or Reading or Nottingham Forest or Middlesbrough away from home and plenty more occasions in front of a Norfolk public who delivered a similarly harsh verdict to their manager.
The sense of entitlement that appears to bind these Norwich players is staggering. Brentford earned everything that came their way with an aggressive outlook and a common sense of unity Norwich have strived to harness all season.
Neil talked about the heart and desire to win individual battles and you could name and shame numerous players in green and yellow who fell short in that key regard. Such epic tussles between rivals who harbour the same ambitions hinge not only technical prowess or tactical nous. They are decided by a willingness to chase and harry and fight for second balls; to defend and attack as units not disparate raiding parties that leave space to exploit. It is about earning the right and too often this season Norwich's collective approach has been lazy and complacent.
Consistency was the policy of choice last summer following relegation. Neil Adams' internal promotion and a push to retain the majority of the same playing personnel were designed to equip City for a softer landing and a concerted attempt at an instant Premier League return.
With each passing episode of unfulfilled expectation there is a growing sense perhaps shock treatment was required and a massive overhaul to inject fresh blood and new ideas.
Norwich's labours in the defining moments appear stale and dated and lacking in self-belief when they face emerging forces like Brentford and Middlesbrough who dance to a different tune; a more intense beat.
Those who hoped Neil would bring a magic wand with him from Hamilton should think again. Nor is there the time left in this transfer window to perform major surgery; a trading period usually marked by cosmetic brush strokes to tweak squads which should have been configured in the summer.
Neil finds himself in at the deep end ridiculously early in his tenure, battling against a tide of baffling inconsistency, striving to decipher how the same group of young men can prevail at Bournemouth and then surrender against Brentford. Between now and May he has to sift through his available resources and convince those he can trust to buy into his work ethic and football philosophy.
Given the fate that befell his predecessors that is no small task with this group of players. Do that and Norwich can still prevail but the odds lengthen which each fresh disappointment.
City's squad have proven adept at responses when they have fallen short this season. After Neil's post-match criticism expect another when they head to Birmingham this weekend but until they provide definitive proof over a prolonged period the accusations they are simply not up to the challenge must persist.