Norwich City at a crossroads again but Alex Neil is the man to lead us back

Alex Neil has not made excuses for his sides shortfalls this season.

Alex Neil has not made excuses for his sides shortfalls this season. - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It's funny how often football is summed up by those supposedly in the know as being 'a results business'.

If the latest turbulent week in the life of Norwich City has taught us anything it is that supporters have hidden depths.

It was surreal to be describing Alex Neil's final Carrow Road bow of the season on the radio on Wednesday night. As the fans chanted the manager's name following a barmy 4-2 win over Watford in the Canaries' last home game and he applauded them back, anyone who had been wise enough to miss the previous four months of the campaign would have assumed that the league table in the match programme that night must have been printed upside down. It didn't have the air of a side second from bottom of the table having a meek and totally avoidable relegation confirmed.

The ovation certainly stopped the manager in his tracks. Alex Neil had been so fearful of how the reality of relegation might be received in the stands that he had asked his wife to keep their young children away from Carrow Road for fear of the nasty reaction that may result from swallowing that familiar bitter pill for the second time in three seasons.

He needn't have worried. The Scotsman has won many friends this season for his honesty. There has been no attempt to dress up the many failings, no passing of the buck or searching around for excuses, traits that under-fire managers, at Carrow Road and beyond, have fallen back on too readily.

It was no surprise to hear that Neil had been up at 4.30am on Thursday morning, too haunted by his team's relegation to sleep, nursing a cup of tea and pouring over where it had all gone wrong.

Perhaps David McNally's final move at Carrow Road turned out to be one of his most effective. By unexpectedly resigning before relegation had been confirmed the chief executive forced all of the discussion and arguments, particularly about the club's problems in the transfer market and who to blame for them, out into the open before City's destiny had been decided. It meant that by Wednesday night, blame had been apportioned, a head had rolled and there was a collective sense of it being a time for Norwich fans to puff their chests out, take what was coming to them and impress the watching football world with their defiance.

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After the Everton game on Sunday I sensed a rebooted Alex Neil and an extra determination in his eye. That 3-0 defeat could be simply dismissed as a relegated team failing to lift itself for a dead rubber at the end of a season if it hadn't been a performance that bore a sharp resemblance to those that were turned in when it mattered most of all at Crystal Palace, Swansea, Aston Villa and Bournemouth.

With renewed urgency Neil spoke of having 'a lot of work to do' over the summer. He'll be starting next season under a chairman and chief executive who didn't appoint him and that can be an uncomfortable place for any manager, as Bryan Gunn will tell you, so he knows he needs a good start to life back in the Championship.

We're at one of those crossroads again. Get the right replacement for McNally, clear out the players who don't fancy the season outside the Premier League that their own performances have delivered and make some shrewd signings and there is still a chance that a better, bolder, wiser Norwich City could return to the Premier League. Any dilly-dallying or lack of conviction and we may just find the Championship goals programme on Channel 5 becomes more than just a season's viewing. How many lessons have really been learnt in Carrow Road's corridors of power? We're about to find out.

To the cold, clinical observer football may be all about results but all of those fans who cheered Alex Neil's name at Carrow Road last week will be back in August. Gluttons for punishment perhaps, but once you have taken your football club to your heart you know that it's a feeling that cannot simply be knocked out of you by a few defeats.

• YOUNGSTER COULD PROVE VITAL FOR CITY

An overhaul of the Norwich City squad in the summer may be good news for some of those players farmed out on loan while the more senior lads were attempting to look after Premier League business.

Of all of them the one that I am most looking forward to seeing back at Carrow Road is Josh Murphy. The young winger has spent the season on loan at MK Dons, a campaign that ended in relegation from the Championship. Not the most promising of signs when you consider the battle ahead for Norwich City but this is where I go back to that earlier point of trying to see beyond the results.

In amongst all of the Premier League post-mortems you may have missed the fact that Murphy was named Player's Player of the Year by his Dons team mates. As important as the awards voted by the supporters are, I always think the ones that get handed out from within the dressing room give a true picture of how valuable somebody is to a team.

A good case in point would be Norwich City's League One promotion campaign in 2009/10. Grant Holt was the star of the show that season, ably supported by the attacking exploits of Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin as Paul Lambert's men overcame an awful start to the season to canter to the title. But the Player's Player of the Season then couldn't have been further away from the goal getting headline grabbers.

It was goalkeeper Fraser Forster. A man who will be off to the European Championships with England this summer and who has just signed a new contract at Southampton with rumours of interest from clubs as big as Chelsea.

Sometimes players really do have the right idea about their team mates.

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