Paddy Davitt verdict: Last orders for this Norwich City vintage
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
David Cameron famously signed off as Prime Minister with a jibe he was the future once. Whatever your political persuasion it is difficult to shake the feeling this set of Norwich City players know the end is nigh.
Given City's squad increasingly appear to be marking time a long Bank Holiday trip to Preston holds little appeal. Those who do travel deserve a committed performance. Not another surrender from a set of young men who seem to be feeling sorry for themselves.
Fulham was the starkest example yet too many in green and yellow appear past their sell by date. That is a brutal assessment but the evidence is both compelling and vast since the early promise of a concerted promotion charge. Top level football should be a hard, harsh environment. The rewards are plentiful, the laurels and the acclaim from the terraces is enduring. Those who serve with distinction will always be fondly remembered. Many who toiled against the 10-men on Good Friday fall into that category, but Stuart Webber has already displayed a ruthless streak in culling the top end of the recruitment department. Once he unveils his chosen sporting director expect the searing focus to settle on how to inject energy and dynamism, and defensive resolve, into Norwich's playing roster.
Fulham were everything City used to be during the best parts of a journey over the past number of years that now appears to have run its course. The most damning indictment of Friday's 3-1 Championship defeat was City rarely threatened to make their numerical advantage count.
Such was the Cottagers' discipline without the ball, the organisation stamped through their play, that even the dismissal of former Colney academy starlet Chris Martin in the closing stages of the first half was overcome with relative ease.
Norwich have suffered a spate of red cards this season as the downward spiral continued largely unchecked. Martin Olsson scrambling on his own goalline trying to claw out the ball barely three minutes into another away defeat at QPR will remain one of the sour images of this campaign. Yet there are few, if any examples, you can recall when they were able to recover from such adversity in the manner Fulham achieved with relative ease at Carrow Road.
Hammering a youthful Reading the previous weekend demonstrated the best enduring traits within this Norwich City squad. But Fulham was a pertinent reminder too often those are out-weighed by a compulsion to unravel.
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The manner of Fulham's opening goal, sourced as it was by Timm Klose's rushed, misplaced pass, is symptomatic of a group who have run out of ideas and confidence. It was imprecise, it was a panic measure when faced with a cohesive, collective press, and Fulham had the guile and quality to punish such aberrations. The laughable episode straight after half-time, when you felt the visitors would struggle to adapt to Martin's exit, underlined all that is wrong with this Canaries' vintage.
Jonny Howson was forced into a naughty lunge to crudely halt Floyd Ayite from bearing down on the City penalty area. From the resulting free kick, Stefan Johansen picked out Tomas Kalas' run in behind Ryan Bennett, who desperately tried to halt the defender in a tussle that resulted in a penalty despatched by the imperious Tom Cairney.
Basic levels of concentration appear beyond too many. They could manage it in the past but is this now about the future. Such lapses may not prove costly against many in the second tier - albeit those losses at Rotherham and Burton in 2017 suggest differently - but City have hit a ceiling when they come up against genuine promotion contenders. Reading's naivety was exploited. Teams like Fulham or Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Leeds, show few visible traces of vulnerability.
Then there is Brighton and Chris Hughton. The irony Hughton's first competitive return to Carrow Road next week could confirm the Seagulls' promotion to the Premier League feels like the final insult. Hughton departed in a hail of clap banners after a damaging home Premier League defeat to West Brom in 2015 pushed Norwich closer to the Championship. They recovered once under the galvanising influence of Alex Neil but Webber will have to swiftly prove his credentials to trigger a repeat. Some of those who were part of the ride must be jettisoned. Failure demands a high casualty rate.