Paddy Davitt verdict: Alex Neil faces a stark choice at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Bravery is now Alex Neil's only refuge to avoid becoming collateral damage in Norwich City's Championship tailspin.
Perspective and reasoned logic are in short supply. Neil must find an antidote to what appears a toxic dressing room or he will pay the price. Much was wrong on a truly wretched afternoon in Brighton, but it is simply unforgivable for a group of players to surrender in the manner they did after Glenn Murray and Lewis Dunk combined to put Chris Hughton's squad out of sight just past the hour mark.
For Neil, and more pertinently his captain, Russell Martin, to emerge from the wreckage of the away camp and question the professionalism and the spirit is a shocking indictment on the Scot, his management and what appears a fractured playing squad.
Neil insisted his patience had run out. Personnel changes are inevitable, but how he alters the culture, how he unifies a set of young men who appear to have lost faith in their manager and his methods is the most pressing concern.
That single-minded, bullish arrogance that swept Neil into Carrow Road has evaporated. The former Hamilton boss prowls his technical area in recent times with the visible frustration of a manager who knows he is failing to carry his players with him. He looks lost, his words no longer carry the same venom. His formations, tactics, substitutions and zealous commitment to a style of play routinely overwhelmed by honest endeavour spreads doubt amongst ever larger swathes of Norwich's support.
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The parallels with the situation he inherited are painfully obvious. Neil Adams enjoyed a similarly positive start to life back in the Championship, after picking up the pieces from Hughton, but that promise and self-confidence had eroded to such a degree change was inevitable. The young, unheralded Scot galvanised a failing squad and led them to promotion success at Wembley on a tidal surge of passion and belief.
The scale of the decline in the days since Neil picked up his manager of the month award for September is breathtaking. Few, if any, would have claimed Norwich had hit their smooth stride, yet the steady accumulation of points masked the divisions and the gnawing sense Norwich were vulnerable.
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What unfolded on the south-coast removed any lingering doubt. It is not a blip, it is not simply about eradicating embarrassing individual errors. The malaise is much deeper and if Brighton does not act as a watershed then Neil is on borrowed time.
The latest set of annual accounts, released on the eve of this chastening defeat, and the accompanying sound bites from the club's hierarchy reiterated it is imperative Norwich return to the Premier League within the next two years. Inaction is not an option because the negative forces unleashed by a failure to maximise financial advantages compared to many second tier rivals could last for years.
On the eve of battle Neil laughed off any suggestion there might be a constituency who feel he is no longer the right man. No one is laughing now. To survive he must decide who is with him and who is not, who he can rely on and who simply does not want to be part of Norwich's future. It will take a special type of character to handle a fraught, febrile atmosphere at Carrow Road this weekend against Leeds.
City's loyal fan base crave a team cast in their image. At present they have a surly, disinterested, cowed group of individuals seemingly led by a man unable to inspire them. It is not too much to expect effort, desire and a willingness to match less-gifted opponents. Neil must show the courage of his convictions. He has no other choice if he wishes to continue.
The pain and the hurt were etched all over Martin's features at the end. The Norwich captain has his detractors, but he cares what happens to his football club. How many of his team-mates feel the same will decide Neil's fate and City's future prospects.