‘Norwich City need a hero with a touch of devilment to get out of this mess’

Grant Holt scores a late winning goal for Norwich against Reading. What would Norwich give for anoth

Grant Holt scores a late winning goal for Norwich against Reading. What would Norwich give for another Holt? - Credit: Archant © 2011

They're very proud of their musical heritage in Wales.

Grant Holt has a laugh at Ipswich's expense in 2011. (Pic by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images)

Grant Holt has a laugh at Ipswich's expense in 2011. (Pic by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images) - Credit: Focus Images

The public address system at Swansea tried to awaken the inner dragon of the home faithful by playing everything from Catatonia to the Stereophonics before they watched their team become the latest of Norwich City's so-called relegation rivals to ride three points further off into the Premier League sunset.

The tune from the Swansea DJ's pre-match principality playlist that was going round and round in my head for most of the 300-mile drive home was Bonnie Tyler's 'Holding Out For A Hero'.

Norwich supporters know just how Bonnie felt when she was giving that one the big 'un in the mid-1980s. After two months and now 10 games without a win Alex Neil, lamented a 'missing ingredient' in our post-match interview as we were forced to reflect on another afternoon which had seen City beaten in a big Premier League game.

Without lapsing into a lazy line of Delia Smith inspired cookery puns, what could that missing ingredient be?


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The squad that has been assembled by Neil and his predecessors over the past few seasons is full of hard-working, honest, dependable players. From Russell Martin at the back to Jonny Howson in midfield and Cameron Jerome, pictured inset, up front you can be sure that they will give all they have for the Canary cause.

Yes, they make mistakes, but the all too familiar sight of crestfallen full-time faces that we saw again at Swansea on Saturday as well as the blood and teeth that were spilled by Gary O'Neil and Robbie Brady against Chelsea at Carrow Road last week should be proof enough that this isn't a set of players prone to shrugging off a defeat and thinking more about their next pay check or asking their agent to organise a transfer than the task at hand.

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I have looked into enough of their eyes during interviews in recent weeks to be convinced that the commitment of the current playing squad and the manager cannot be questioned.

But, in the unforgiving Premier League, that heart-on-the-sleeve honesty will only get you so far. I remember a fleeting conversation with Chris Hughton before City's last doomed campaign in the top flight.

We shared our hopes that a summer of spending on players like Leroy Fer and Ricky van Wolfswinkel might lead to the club climbing to the next level as an established, mid-table Premier League outfit. Hughton confessed that his nagging concern was that his squad might not have enough 'devilment' in it.

If by 'devilment' he meant the sort of presence who might wind up opposition defenders and supporters, make the most of any contact from a defender to nick a free kick or try something that perhaps hasn't been worked on a hundred times on the training ground that week, then it's been missing from the City set-up since Grant Holt's peak.

A solid base of rigid, reliable professionals is useful for any manager to lean on but there needs to be space for a player who has the freedom to conjure up the unexpected. It's a delicate balance, these players also tend to be the ones who can dictate team spirit in the dressing room and possess the ability to frustrate their own colleagues as much as the opponents but a few wins can go a long way towards tempering any festering internal politics.

After the Chelsea defeat Neil explained Steven Naismith's absence by telling us that 'his scores were down' by which I think he was talking about the analysis that is constantly being carried out on footballers in the modern game. There is no doubt that knowing everything about the inner workings of a player's body, how far they run during a game and how many touches of the ball they have is useful for a manager but I do worry that an obsession with this sort of data in the search for the precious winning formula can make coaches and players less inclined to trust their instincts or to try something on the basis of a hunch.

The most frustrating aspect of Norwich's current malaise is that they are not being battered out of sight in games.

Leicester, Chelsea and Swansea have all beaten us by the odd goal. But a miss is as good as a mile when you're in the bottom three and we have nine games to find our hero. He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast and he's gotta be fresh from the fight. Isn't that right, Bonnie?

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