Norwich City must get up off the canvas
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The late carnage at the City Ground swept away any lingering delusion Norwich City can plot a routine passage out of the Championship.
The Canaries do not have the best squad or the best players in the second tier of English football.
There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from these past 10 league games. They are an average collective drifting aimlessly down the standings as other promotion rivals thrive and prosper.
Those who were part of the epic decline last season at Carrow Road are not simply on loan to the Football League. They are not Premier League players now, they are Championship players, and bar the odd one or two who may conceivably gain further employment higher up the food chain the rest will remain languishing in the Football League.
Until they produce compelling evidence to the contrary in the weeks and months ahead, Neil Adams' squad are now in deficit.
City's efforts to arrest an alarming spiral increasingly resemble a smooth, slick boxer. Deft on his feet and technically sound but whose combinations carry little weight. Back him up, force him to cover on the ropes and he is susceptible to the devastating body punch from which he appears incapable of hauling himself off the canvas.
So it proved again in the East Midlands, after a composed, measured first half woven around Jonny Howson's intelligent urgings was wrecked by a fresh abdication of responsibility.
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Adams will inevitably be portrayed as a convenient scapegoat. That is the culture we live in, where someone has to carry the can, where someone is always to blame. He picks the players, he formulates the tactics, he is the one who sets the tone and the direction for the football club.
His demeanour after the final whistle was an acceptance of such a fate, the hurt on his features, the pain in the words, but let's be clear, this group of players are letting him down and the thousands who follow them home and away.
Demons are visible everywhere in whatever line up goes into battle. The self-belief dissolves by the minute, not even the game, the brittleness and lack of confidence which had lain dormant following relegation has erupted to the surface again since a derby day win at Portman Road which sent neighbours spinniing in opposite directions.
Adams reacted to the midweek mauling at Middlesbrough by removing Steven Whittaker and switching Russell Martin to right-back in a move that would have been universally popular. What unfolded in the final moments at the City Ground was akin to the tale of the boy with his finger in the dike. The Norwich boss plugs one area of vulnerability only for others to burst open.
He has an experienced centre-back making poor decisions, a hesitant left-back who looks a pale imitation of the attacking asset he was in the top flight and a goalkeeper who appears to be anything but secure; although is it any wonder playing behind such a fragile backline?
Add in a striker who has scored once since August 30 and another who has yet to score at all, but clearly retains a penchant for yellow cards, and you begin to understand the scale of the task facing Adams.
It matters little now whether Norwich play well or poorly, whether they actually dominate teams or not because results, bar the odd optimistic interlude, are tumbling in a downward direction. We are not three weeks into the new campaign, we are three months.
Norwich paused for the last international break at the top of the Championship table; full of bullish optimism for the future, but a darker mood has settled as they endure this latest hiatus prior to Brighton's league visit.
In the ensuing lull a sense of perspective is paramount. The irrefutable fact that large numbers of Adams' squad have departed for international duty over these coming days should illustrate the resources he has to draw from.
Injured senior players will return before Christmas and Norwich remain on the fringes of a promotion race which, given the arduous nature of Championship combat, can turn in a matter of weeks. Yet the underlying trend is a negative one.
There is a growing constituency who have seemingly lost faith and lost patience in Adams' methods. The Norwich manager's former life spent in the media leaves him well-versed in just how easily and how quickly public opinion can shift.
Few will remember or even care to accept the first 85 minutes of a game Norwich looked set to win in Nottingham as mitigation.
Or those previous dominant displays without the ruthless, clinicial blows adminstered to the likes of Charlton, Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday.
Minds have already been hardened in some quarters by the failure to build on that early winning surge and tangible promise.
The only way Adams and his under-performing players convince the doubters now is by their actions on the pitch.