Norwich City’s players are on trial as well as the manager after Manchester City surrender
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When you hit rock bottom the only way is surely up in regard to Norwich City's Premier League prospects.
The Canaries may still sit above Sunderland and Crystal Palace in the pecking order, but this pitiful performance marked a new low. Manuel Pellegrini's squad is laced with sublime attacking talent and creative potential but the way Norwich folded should be an insult to their collective professionalism.
Chris Hughton's future was inevitably the main focus in the immediate aftermath of fresh disappointment, yet the players he has entrusted to fight the Canaries' corner must carry their share of the blame.
Hughton can not convert any one of 31 recorded efforts peppering David Marshall's Cardiff goal the previous weekend any more than he can bolster his backline at the Etihad. A defence populated by individuals who appeared only too willing to abdicate any semblance of responsibility to resurrect a game that proved beyond them once they had been breached in the most bizarre circumstances.
The nature of Norwich's pliant capitulation raised serious doubts as to whether this group of players truly believe they can extricate themselves from a perilous situation even this relatively early in the campaign. Autumn promise against Chelsea and Arsenal in losing causes threatens to defer to a winter of discontent at Carrow Road.
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Norwich look incapable of scoring goals at one end or offering sustained resistance at the other; a cocktail with a sour aftertaste that will surely consign them to the Football League. It is no longer enough to seek solace in productive patches of play. Now the only currency of any value is positive results as they languish in the lowest reaches of the table.
Hughton has embraced the scrutiny he is inevitably under. His features remained taut for most of this torturous afternoon as he prowled the away technical area. Norwich's manager is a fiercely proud man, a decent, honest individual who deserves more from his under-performing players. It is too easy to hide behind the perceived deficiencies of the man at the helm who readily accepts his culpability and is steadfast in his belief he can still plot a route through the malaise.
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The Canaries were shorn of key performers through a worryingly lengthy injury list in Manchester but that is a cheap excuse for the manner in which they imploded.
Amid the rancour and the poisonous reaction that followed the final whistle one thing above all others seems abundantly clear. Many in a squad melded from old and new constituent parts are short-changing themselves, never mind fans who again trooped away from this footballing corner of the north-west with precious little to show for their devotion except unbridled frustration.
All Norwich's fan base crave is a group of talented young men that play to the best of their ability, not lingering questions left unanswered over their desire, their work-rate, their willingness to fight, that until now appeared to be a given within Norwich's dressing room.
Despite the summer overhaul, Hughton has retained a core of individuals who played an intrinsic role in three consecutive seasons of Premier League membership.
That cherished status is under serious threat and it would be delusional to ignore the warning signs.
If Norwich's best had simply not been good enough against a truly dazzling array of attacking power unleashed by Pellegrini then the genuine feeling of positivity which existed after league defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea would have carried forward to an upcoming test against West Ham which now assumes epic proportions.
City's forgettable week in Manchester will either prove Hughton's nadir or the seeds of a recovery the like of which looked a forlorn prospect as the yellow sea parted in front of John Ruddy with embarrassing regularity. Hughton's fate now rests with his players. The Hammers and their wily manager Sam Allardyce would hardly fit the profile of complicit opponents, but Hughton has no real choice now. City's lack of progress in the Premier League following a club record summer transfer outlay has backed him into a corner.
The only way out are wins to propel them away from the murky waters such spending was designed to alleviate. That reservoir of goodwill towards the man and his re-shaped squad as supporters waited for the fruits of a productive summer has run dry. Norwich have endured a hellishly difficult string of assignments against many of the principals who will compete for honours in the past month or so, but that is why they strained every last sinew to reach the Premier League.
To lose top flight games is one thing, to seemingly not try or, even worse, care is quite another. The Etihad left an indelible stain on a disparate bunch of individuals who appeared to feel sorry for themselves as the Blues' mesmeric midfielders ran the show, who gave up the fight with indecent haste once Bradley Johnson's inadvertent deflection had looped up and over the stranded Ruddy. That is an unforgiveable charge and the only plea Hughton's players can enter must come against West Ham.