Norwich City: It’s simple... you must do better
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City go back to school at the weekend – and the half-term report is not good.
With 23 games of the 46-game season gone, the Canaries have stumbled from pre-season promotion favourites to also-rans.
A stunning loss of form has seen them tumble to 12th in the Championship table, barely in the top half, and to say they 'could do better' is a massive under-statement.
Manager Alex Neil is under ever-growing pressure – but he isn't alone.
The fans are beginning to turn on chief executive Jez Moxey for what they perceive as a lack of decision-making over Neil's future. This newspaper has requested an interview with Moxey, but that request has been declined.
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And the club's majority shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, instead of celebrating 20 years of ownership, are being urged to sell up.
In the first of a two-part half-term report, we look at where City have failed to make the grade.
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You know that cliché about making your home ground a fortress? Well it isn't enough. Even if you are pretty good at home, if you suffer from travel sickness then your chances of troubling the top end of the table are remote. There are no real hard and fast statistics about this: it is just common sense. Which is why City's away form is going to be their downfall (on top of a few others things). At the halfway stage of the current campaign, City are rubbish on their travels. Three wins in 12 attempts and just 17 goals scored is not promotion-winning form. Why are they so bad? Do the players freeze? They shouldn't given the experience. Does the manager hand the initiative to his hosts by setting up his side to cope with them, rather than beat them? Are City not brave enough outside of familiar home territory? It goes without saying that the support they receive from fans is superb: it's been that way for years and those fans are a credit. But if their team keeps getting lost on away trips, they might just decide that regular checking of various live feeds is the best way to follow their team.
Peter Grant often used to reference the abacus when it came to counting those ghost chances he felt his side had squandered. Today, we need a stack of microchips: first 12 games yielded 26 points, the next 11 a mere seven. There was a run of five consecutive defeats. City are currently bottom of the current form table (over the last six games). They have conceded 37 goals – only Forest (41), Cardiff (38), Blackburn (39) and Rotherham (50) have worse records. Seventh in the home league table, they are 17th in the away league table – only Rotherham have conceded more goals on the road. It's chalk and cheese for City with just three draws all season (only Leeds and Newcastle have drawn fewer games) and they haven't finished all square in their last 10 games. The logic of the above would usually be that the manager would politely be asked to leave... something doesn't appear to add up.
A vast subject this, but let's start with the players: have some just been here too long? Sebastien Bassong has had more relegations than most people have had hot dinners. Russell Martin, Wes Hoolahan and John Ruddy have been up and down like a yo-yo. The manager's biggest claim to fame is a few years at Barnsley – makes the task of gaining players' respect just that little more difficult. The bigger history subject is club ownership: has it been in the owners' hands for too long? Have they not kept up with the times? Is it akin to asking Queen Victoria to sort out Brexit? In short, is it time to sell to someone who may (and that's the crux) be able to invest, and invest wisely, to make City a credible Premier force? It's an age-old question.
Once you lose the fans, that's it: it's a commonly-held belief which, if true, doesn't bode well for the powers that be. Fans who pay a good price for their entertainment will claim they have been short-changed by those at Carrow Road. It's their church, the place they come and worship icons (that's not pushing it, some really do). But the message isn't exactly inspiring. The team is not allowing their flock to wallow in self-agrandisement, therefore, it is not serving its purpose. From the pews, there have been more than murmurings of discontent. There is no singing from the same team sheet. there is discord: and where there is discord, there has to be harmony, as a famous female once said.
If you thought Brexit might be painful, then you're prepared for what an Ipswich-like exile from the Premier League will be for Norwich City. You will not earn £100m for finishing bottom. You will not earn tens of millions in parachute payments for being relegated. You run the risk of losing support and season ticket revenue, of dwindling sponsorship revenue, of being unable to attract the big players. You can be caught in a downward spiral. On the other side of the coin, you won't have the money to spend on players and then let them sit twiddling their thumbs. Timm Klose, Steven Naismith, Alex Pritchard, Sergi Canos. Many millions of pounds on the bench or, worse, not even in the squad. If they're not fit, fair enough; if they are not good enough, someone has to ask why the hell they were bought in the first place. The January transfer window is around the corner; will City sell their stars, with a nod to another season in the Championship? Or will they have enough to strengthen a squad which is in desperate need of some help? Go figure.