Paddy Davitt verdict: End of an era for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City reek of failure. In the short-term a fading Championship force, in the longer term a club at a crossroads.
The words 'knee' and 'jerk' are no longer charges that can be levelled to assess a diabolical campaign now beyond the halfway point.
Alex Neil looks beaten. The Scot does not deserve the abuse or the anger routinely directed at him. He is a failing football manager who brought the good times back to Carrow Road on a magical carpet ride that culminated in Wembley success. For that he merits gratitude and thanks.
Neil's work this season has been graded, voted on, and forensically dissected by all and sundry. Now the time has come to measure him by his own words. In the midst of that prolonged spiral prior to Christmas came an emphatic 5-0 Championship home win over Brentford. Alex Pritchard finally looked like a player who had arrived at great expense. Nelson Oliveira was irresistible. Robbie Brady did a passable impression of a footballer coveted by Premier League suitors. Neil rightly felt it was the start of a fightback. The penny had dropped. The arrogance and complacency had been checked.
Ahead of his impending two-year anniversary, Neil confidently predicted City would be in a much healthier situation than the one he inherited from Neil Adams. They are not. They are far worse off – both in league position and outlook.
City were on the periphery of the play-offs when the Scot arrived from Hamilton. Now they are eight points behind sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday. They leak goals and attract red cards in masochistic fashion.
There is another pertinent parallel. When Lewis Grabban was red-carded in the first-half of a Championship trip to Rotherham in April 2015, Neil's storm troopers hit back to earn a point. The defiance, the energy, the hunger was stamped right through that performance and that side. It was a team cast in Neil's image; bullish, self-confident, physically and mentally strong.
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When Oliveira departed for a petulant slap in the facial region of Kirk Broadfoot, Norwich faced the same dilemma. City did respond and were full value for Cameron Jerome's equaliser. The script was written. Either hold on for a battling draw or complete an epic, against-the-odds win – much in the manner they prevailed at Bournemouth in Neil's debut – and that nascent new year revival had indeed gathered pace. This was not QPR or Burnley or Huddersfield or Reading. Except it was. City were exposed when Tom Adeyemi rose with menacing intent in front of Steven Whittaker.
Norwich edged forward as the minutes ticked by but the conviction was lacking. Just like the attitude in the defining moments at the start. The thirst for change is now unquenchable while Neil remains in his post. But a new manager will not halt the decline. City's squad needs a major overhaul. A short term uplift, maybe even a belated play-off push, would not disguise we are witnessing the sad, final throes of a thrilling era.
Perhaps it is fitting Paul Lambert brings Wolves to Carrow Road this coming weekend. He was the architect of that great leap forward from the depths of League One. Norwich may have slipped back twice since but the burning expectation lingers from the glorious ascent engineered by Lambert and a set of players who refused to accept they were inferior as they climbed the ladder at speed. Now too many in this squad feel they are better than the Championship. The reality is they are unwilling or unable to grasp the physical price required each and every gruelling week at this level to be a success. They struggle to combat the intensity, the energy, the youthful disrespect shown to former Premier League players. There is a tiredness, a hopelessness and a drift which brief spikes in results can no longer mask.