Norwich City’s Premier League season is spiralling to a sour ending
- Credit: Daniel Chesterton/Focus Images
The saddest indictment of a dispiriting Premier League defeat on the south coast was the sense Norwich City's players did not care.
Southampton oozed confidence where Norwich looked bereft. Southampton attacked with menace and purpose where Norwich simply conceded territory and the initiative from the very first minute and, bar a crazy two-goal salvo, appeared to accept their fate with good grace.
City were deferential to an embarrassing degree. Chris Hughton and his coaching staff do need not to worry about tired limbs or physical recovery for the mountainous peaks ahead. It is the mental state of those under his command that is now of far greater concern.
Penning the Premier League obituary is a touch premature with eight defining games left, but there was little salvageable at St Mary's to suggest the tide can turn. Norwich's players have lined up in recent weeks to insist they are fully behind their manager and the epic cause; that they understand the gravity of the situation and what is at stake for themselves as professionals and the thousands who invest love, loyalty and finance. Nothing in this latest fitful offering supported such laudable words.
There was a lack of conviction, an absence of leadership and when the goals rained in again - just as they did at Villa Park - fresh evidence perhaps that whoever pulls on the Norwich shirt has started to feel sorry for themselves. Such an accusation is an affront to the professional pride of a group whose character and spirit is unquestionable but perhaps the struggle appears too great, the sacrifice too much to rise when they falter, to hit back harder than they are hit.
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Norwich's brittleness and fragility was evident in a ferocious opening barrage from a vibrant Saints' outfit who have an abundance of the creativity and inventiveness City crave.
Norwich's team shape mimicked Mauricio Pochettino's but you would scarcely believe it as the hosts poured forward with an instinctive freedom and refreshing ambition.
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Morgan Schneiderlin nominally left his holding midfield role to break into the penalty box and slot past John Ruddy with barely five minutes gone. Gaston Ramirez had already planted an unmarked close range header over. Adam Lallana was the attacking pivot linking back to front and enticing two young full-backs to raid at will against direct opponents forced into reverse until Robert Snodgrass escaped the shackles of Luke Shaw to slot past Artur Boruc.
Hughton was berated by a frustrated travelling support as the game drifted away for trusting a set of players who had failed to deliver. A man routinely lambasted for his rigidity and refusal to broker change in tactics or personnel gave five of his squad a fresh chance in a major re-shuffle sparked by the home deadlock against Stoke. None remotely grabbed that opportunity.
Should City have returned from St Mary's with a positive result and renewed belief ahead of the run-in Hughton would have been hailed for his willingness to freshen things up. Now he is harangued for what appears in hindsight a knee-jerk reaction bordering on panic as he attempts to unearth a sustainable formula for a Premier League relegation scrap that took on a new dimension following a desperate weekend where most of City's foes picked up points.
Hughton is not exempt from the invective that erupted during the second half. Norwich's manager has had longer than most of his peers in a volatile industry to construct a squad and develop a style and identity that is robust enough to hope for more than the same. This group of players at this critical phase of the season appear incapable of scoring goals when it really matters and preventing them on a consistent basis at the other end.
The vocal constituency who want Hughton gone grows exponentially with each chapter highlighting Norwich's perceived limitations. They may get their wish in the fullness of time, but even the most ardent critic would not want to watch City meekly slip out of the top flight.
Much continues to be made of a hellish finale against the very best but they play four of their direct rivals before then, if one now assumes Swansea must share similar concerns as Norwich and the rest of the pack congregating towards the bottom following their weekend concession to a West Brom side who proved, at least for one 90 minutes, it is possible to pull out of a seemingly irreversible tailspin.
Norwich's performance level in the past three games has plunged alarmingly. They deserved more from a fertile period that failed to harvest league points. The same can not be said at this juncture.
Faced with Southampton's blurring speed and effortless economy they often resembled a rabble, a disparate collection of individuals counting the seconds until the final whistle to put them and those who follow them out of their misery.
City can still respond because they have managed to do so on numerous occasions in the past. Sunderland's pending Premier League visit was always going to be an occasion to stir the blood. Now it is massive. But if they genuinely do feel sorry for themselves then all hope is lost and those who care passionately about Norwich City must prepare for a summer of upheaval.