Norwich City must embrace a new Championship reality
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's Championship quest has stalled somewhere between perception and perspective.
At one end of the scale opposition managers queue up to eulogise about the richness of the resources and the enviable depth to the Canaries' squad. Stuart Gray went further and claimed his players had been in 'awe' of their opponents during a spell-binding few minutes in the second half at Hillsborough, when Keiren Westwood's agility and shot-stopping ability was all that stood between Norwich and a win that is now assuming the mystical properties of precious mineral.
At the other end of the spectrum is a sense Norwich have lost their way, perhaps the players are not as good as they had been billed, Neil Adams' early season stamp has rapidly worn off and City's search for goals and victories is fuelling a decline and an uncomfortable loss of league status. How different the emotions feel to when it looked like Norwich would cut a swathe through the division, when Adams and his attacking arsenal could go anywhere at any time and overpower rivals in the second tier.
Such control and clinical edge away from home was matched at Carrow Road in despatching clubs like Watford and Blackburn many felt reflected the quality end of the market. If Norwich could dismiss both in emphatic fashion you feared for the also rans, those who harbour more modest ambitions. Teams like Rotherham and Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday.
You can insert the usual caveat here about meaning no disrespect to that trio and plenty like them, but given City's early statement of intent the perception was such hurdles would prove mere formalities.
City know differently now. Whether that complacency pervaded the Norwich dressing room as well as the terraces is academic because it has dissolved with each passing shift mired in frustration and missed opportunity.
Norwich's squad is not the all-conquering collective many had decided on the evidence of the first 10 league games. They will not be the stand-out team pulling clear of the pack and turning the promotion race into a procession.
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But they are still more than good enough to prevail in what is shaping to be a season-long struggle for success. Norwich started the campaign with a weight of expectancy from outside the club that Adams, to his credit, sought to embrace. City should aim high, but the arrogance and the dominance of those first few months has raised the burden to an unsustainable level and a current downturn in results is viewed through the same harsh perspective.
Adams is finding out about the uncomfortable truths of top level management. When every decision is scrutinised and every evaluation takes place with the gift of hindsight. Yet he is also the same manager who plotted that powerful initial surge, the same individual feted by the travelling support as he exited the Portman Road pitch.
Prior to this latest unfulfilling episode he reiterated his philosophy will never change. This Norwich manager wants his team to entertain, to score goals, to dominate opponents and he should be commended not castigated for that mission statement. Norwich's second half salvo at Hillsborough was as good as they produced at Blackpool in the last Championship league win or any of the other genuine high points during the fertile times.
They encountered a keeper at the top of his game and more irrefutable evidence of imprecision from his own team. It is not enough to praise the opponent's last line of defence any more than it is to berate Lewis Grabban for his first half miss or Cameron Jerome or even Russell Martin, who found himself in the same territory he despatched his goal against Leeds just days earlier, but miscued a header in the closing moments.
Adams has made eight changes to his starting line-up over the last three games in an elusive search to re-discover that winning formula. Nathan Redmond's second half arrival at Hillsborough had the same positive effect Kyle Lafferty's late introduction did against Rotherham earlier this month. The City boss has tinkered with his system; those are not the actions of a manager blindly putting his faith in the status quo.
There is no simple answer, no magic bullet to propel Norwich City forward again or to harness that momentum which was seemingly the Canaries' birthright not all that many matches ago.
Widen the focus and Norwich's fallow cycle is replicated over the border, where Ipswich blew a two-goal lead to Grant Holt's Huddersfield on Saturday and in so doing now match City's run of one win in the last six. Nottingham Forest appeared the only rival capable of keeping pace with Norwich, but Stuart Pearce's charges have one win in eight. Watford, with Seb Bassong in their ranks of late, have now won two league games in seven – compelling evidence the Championship has no outstanding candidate.
That is cold comfort to Norwich as they spurn each new chance for progress but it should at least counter-act the notion City's declining fortunes are irreversible.