Paddy Davitt: ‘Norwich City’s revival in last two games is huge inconvenience to those outside Norfolk’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When Alex Neil talks it pays to listen to the Norwich City manager.
Neil is one of the most refreshingly honest and uncomplicated operators you are likely to encounter in his profession. There is no hidden agenda, no sneering condescension when he wades through any number of media commitments before and after games. Of course, Neil indulges in the smokescreens and the judicious snippets of information when it comes to disclosing team and injury news. That is part and parcel of the dance to try and retain a competitive advantage every weekend, where finding any edge is increasingly difficult in an age of statistical saturation.
But ask Neil a question and you more often than not get an unscripted reply, not the tired clichés or barely concealed distaste for that aspect of the job displayed by some of his peers. Tony Pulis brokered two questions at his post-match press conference before exiting stage left to digest the lessons of how Norwich had beaten his side at his own game. In a side room just behind the platform where Pulis held court for the briefest of interludes, as Neil dutifully conducted his media commitments, one answer resonated above all others.
The Scot believes Norwich City are perceived as small fry in the three-way relegation shoot-out between Newcastle United and Sunderland. Granted, Crystal Palace are doing their utmost to gatecrash the survival battle, but for the last few weeks it has appeared to be a duel between the Canaries and the north-east heavyweights to avoid joining Aston Villa in the Football League.
Take Neil's soundbite to its logical conclusion and it taps into a familiar vein; that Norwich should be grateful for their lot at this level, that in the Premier League perhaps they deserve little better, so it stands to reason they have less right than either Newcastle or Sunderland to prevail. Both, it could be reasonably argued, have richer Premier League pedigrees, massive fan bases, rivers of passion and fervour. Yet none of that entitles either club to remain in the top flight at Norwich's expense. This is about the short-term future not the history of all three.
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Norwich's revival in the last two games is a huge inconvenience to the majority outside Norfolk who were confidently predicting they would be cut adrift alongside Villa. Now the story is no longer just about Rafa or Big Sam, but wee Alex and his little club stuck out on the side of the country.
Norfolk's geographical remoteness may lend itself to an insularity, but that should not be portrayed as a negative in the Canaries' quest for survival. As Neil also said recently, let the doubters and critics write off his men. The satisfaction will be all the sweeter when they prove them wrong and the big beasts of the north-east take the fall instead.
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That siege mentality has shone brightly against Manchester City and at West Brom. Neil, and, more pertinently, his players, have visibly melded into an effective fighting force where it is about the collective, not the individual, or a personality manager dominating the agenda.
With four of their remaining seven Premier League tests to come at home, Norwich's fan base must take their lead from the manager and his troops.
Whatever it takes, make Carrow Road an uncomfortable place for Benitez, inset, and his Magpies and Allardyce and his Black Cats. Show them and the doubters ear-splitting waves of sound and energy are not the preserve of footballing locations such as Tyneside and Wearside. They aren't. That is a myth, just like saying Norwich should harbour an inferiority complex towards clubs who trail them in the Premier League standings.
Whip Carrow Road into a seething mass of intent between now and the finish line in May, make it the focal point for a source of pride in your football club and your area.
The manager is right. Norwich City are more than makeweights between squabbling neighbours.
The time has come to prove it.