Paddy Davitt verdict: Championship bullying must stop for Norwich City

Clayton Donaldson sealed Birmingham City's 3-0 Championship win over Norwich City. Picture by Paul C

Clayton Donaldson sealed Birmingham City's 3-0 Championship win over Norwich City. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City appear to be treading a perilous line between arrogance and bullish self-confidence in their early Championship forays.

David Davis opens the scoring for Birmingham City after getting the run on Norwich City left-back Ro

David Davis opens the scoring for Birmingham City after getting the run on Norwich City left-back Robbie Brady. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

After last season's tumult it is commendable to see Alex Neil return to ambitious, possession-based football; to seek solace in the traits and the beliefs that first catapulted him into the Carrow Road job.

Neil is mindful not just of the need for results but to entertain, to hone a brand of football which is residually effective and aesthetically pleasing.

Young, fresh, exciting talent has been attracted to Norfolk, in the shape of Sergi Canos and Alex Pritchard, or promoted from within, as demonstrated by Jacob Murphy at Ewood Park or in that thumping, vibrant EFL Cup cruise against Coventry City, to supplement a core of senior players who know what it takes to get out of this division.

Rival managers queue up to salivate at the quality and the richness of Neil's resources – before out-working, out-battling and out-scrapping his lightweight Canaries.

Norwich City manager Alex Neil was unable to land another forward on transfer deadline day. Picture

Norwich City manager Alex Neil was unable to land another forward on transfer deadline day. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd


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Forget Blackburn. That was a mirage, a false dawn on the opening weekend when one of the Championship's lesser lights compliantly rolled over and afforded City time and space that has eluded them subsequently.

The Championship is Ipswich Town away, with all that extra derby spice, or Birmingham City at a rain-sodden, ramshackle St Andrew's. Or a Sheffield Wednesday, who came to Carrow Road and obdurately challenged City to break them down.

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It is about second balls, energy, desire and work-rate. Norwich have to earn the right to play a style of football which at its best will sweep away most of their rivals in this less refined tier.

In their last two away games they have short-changed themselves and their supporters, losing the physical collision and in phases seemingly shocked then overwhelmed by the force and urgency of inferior opponents. Yes, they could have still prevailed at Ipswich if Steven Whittaker's shot had clipped the inside of a post but few would have argued they really merited the victory. At Birmingham they got exactly what they deserved.

From back to front there was a collective abdication to match a more limited Blues outfit for application and attitude. Perhaps for the first time on Neil's watch you got the distinct impression some in yellow at St Andrew's felt those dirty, hard yards were beneath them.

That is an unforgivable charge to level at any professional footballer. Much more damning that failing to track a runner at the far post, or sliding into a clumsy challenge to concede a penalty or a wayward back pass to seal the rout.

Neil prowled his technical area with a look that veered from disgust to bemusement, fuelled by frustration at a gameplan that unravelled graphically and a selection policy that provoked intense argument.

This was neither a one-off, nor a wake-up call but a crushing realisation Neil must refine his methods and adapt to the new, cold-edged brutality of Norwich's straightened surroundings. Time moves on swiftly but this is still a Championship both he and many of his players conquered in 2015 on a wave of committed, cohesive football.

Injuries have taken a debilitating toll in the first month, albeit the Scot, as is always his way, refused to offer those as mitigation, but serious questions now persist whether he has the tools at his disposal to stand and trade at places like Birmingham or Barnsley or Burton. Once the pain and the anger recede, once the unsettling distraction of the summer transfer circus ends on Wednesday, the rest of this international break must act as a watershed. A first defeat of the season is not a cause for prolonged introspection but the manner of City's reverse carries possibly far greater ramifications.

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