Paddy Davitt verdict: No room for sentiment in Norwich City’s changing of the guard

Jonathan Kodjia nips in ahead of both Michael McGovern and Ryan Bennett to puth Aston Villa out of N

Jonathan Kodjia nips in ahead of both Michael McGovern and Ryan Bennett to puth Aston Villa out of Norwich City's reach. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Given Norwich City's woeful away record in the Championship it was wishful thinking to expect when it really matters this group of players would deliver.

Norwich City's fraility on the road was exposed again at Aston Villa.
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focu

Norwich City's fraility on the road was exposed again at Aston Villa. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

They have done so in the past. Memorably at this level two seasons ago. But not any more. Not on a consistent basis. They can do it at Carrow Road, they can find a rich seam of productivity even in a season of unfulfilled promise and dashed ambition. Yet travel across the border and irrespective of the personnel on duty there is a deficiency of leadership and a collective will to resist that was exposed again at Villa Park.

The effort is there, the passages of controlled possession and at times slick interplay illustrate the presence of a rich seam of quality but too many other traits are missing. That sense of unity is absent. You do not need frustrated individuals to break ranks immediately after games to detect the lack of common purpose. You see it far more clearly in remote outposts when the pressure is on, the crowd is hostile and City's fragility is routinely exposed.

Villa's first goal came from a sloppy turnover. Jacob Murphy has deserved every plaudit going this season but he will know such praise brings increased scrutiny. The young man too often coughed up cheap possession in the first half. It proved costly only once but that was all the encouragement Villa needed. Jonathan Kodjia still had plenty of work to do as he cut inside Russell Martin but the finish was high class.

His second was alehouse football at its best. Sam Johnstone's thumping clearance was allowed to bounce between Michael McGovern and Ryan Bennett before Kodjia cashed in on fresh charity. Time for another inquest. Another series of dejected images, more hands on hips and blank stares into space.

Ivo Pinto picked up two yellow cards at Aston Villa. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Ivo Pinto picked up two yellow cards at Aston Villa. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

It is not the fault of one player, or one manager for that matter. Alex Neil's exit was portrayed in some quarters as a major facet of the healing process. If only it was that simple to rectify. There is a staleness that has transmitted itself to the pitch and the terraces. The sense of drift is palpable.

Norwich's top brass has unveiled a bold new vision for the football side of the business. Such theory is sound but it hinges on securing those key appointments. Too much of Norwich's decision-making, since the high point of Neil's reign was scaled at Wembley, has been flawed. On the pitch, in the dug out, in the boardroom. Mistakes have been acknowledged at all levels but lessons must be learned to begin the cathartic process of constructing a squad capable of genuinely challenging for Championship promotion in the near future.

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Norwich flatter to deceive too often at present. The script on the road is entirely predictable and the events that unfolded at Villa Park were another demonstration too many in the current squad perhaps need a change of scene. Loyalty must be set aside towards a core of young men who have served with distinction in the past.

Norwich have been bypassed now by a number of clubs without the glittering cast list or the deep reservoir of international caps, yet seemingly more equipped to resist and still prevail away from comfortable surroundings.

Another tough watch for the traveling Norwich fans. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Another tough watch for the traveling Norwich fans. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

What does 11 away defeats say about this City squad? Or a goals against column only inferior to relegated Rotherham United? Those are damning, irrefutable statistics. They suggest a vulnerability and inability to muster the resolution you associate with a promotion-contending squad.

City's board have embarked on a new direction but they have to drive through real change. Stuart Webber has been earmarked for that key sporting director role, and the speed with which Huddersfield have been transformed into a genuine Premier League hopeful should offer hope. So too Garry Monk's relative success at generating a degree of stability at Leeds United. The downturn need not be prolonged, the fallow period sustained or the rot deep. But it requires brutal honesty and a forensic appraisal of what is required for the next phase.

It has felt like the end of an era for some time at Carrow Road. That is the saddest part of each fresh, painful defeat. Much like in time one would hope Neil is remembered for galvanising a squad to triumph thrillingly at Wembley, you hope many of those who were part of the journey on the pitch for so many seasons are not tainted by their part in the decline when they depart. Top level football is a brutal business. There can be no sentiment if the new model is to succeed.