Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City have been down this dark road before
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City needed the sound of trumpets but it was more like a funeral march to accompany a Premier League decline reaching its sad conclusion.
Defeat to Manchester United felt just the same as defeat to Arsenal the previous weekend. It is the nightmare that keeps on giving; glaring defensive lapses and a lack of conviction at the opposite end of the pitch.
A rousing finale, a fight against the odds appears to be beyond this set of players and their manager. City will be relegated on Wednesday should Sunderland sweep aside an Everton squad who appear to have already started divorce proceedings from Roberto Martinez.
Given Norwich have failed to score or take a point in any of their previous four Premier League matches it takes a leap of faith that defies logic to feel they can beat Watford at Carrow Road and then rely on the Black Cats to slip up. Sam Allardyce's battlers have claimed eight points and scored seven goals in that same crucial period; painfully puncturing the growing mood of optimism in Norfolk last month.
On that occasion, Norwich seemed cowed by the scale of the occasion. Sunderland were streetwise, tough, uncompromising and in Jermain Defoe they had a striker capable of piercing Premier League defences. Against Manchester United, there was a lethargy, perhaps fuelled by the sweltering weather conditions, but also a deference and a chronic lack of collective belief.
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City have tried containment against their last two opponents with a dash of counter-attacking verve but bar Cameron Jerome's early header guided at the feet of David De Gea the Spaniard was a virtual spectator.
The City frontman is the poster boy for Norwich's enduring struggles. There is no lack of effort or desire from a man who fired City to promotion in glorious fashion but in the key moments there is only self-doubt and a lack of top flight quality. For those who wish to indulge in the blame game look beyond Jerome, or Seb Bassong for that matter, who again played an inadvertent part in a damaging Carrow Road concession that allowed Wayne Rooney to burst clear and pick out Juan Mata to administer the fatal blow. Norwich rose impressively from the ashes of their Premier League exit through a collective sense of purpose, melded by an inspirational young manager, after Neil Adams had laid the groundwork. City recovered from the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion this time last season to power through the play-offs as a cohesive, effective fighting force. Now they look dis-jointed and dishevelled.
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There must be collective responsibility on the pitch, in the dugout and the boardroom. There may be a thirst for change, certainly a demand for answers as to how Norwich, in all probability, now face a second demotion in three seasons. It is simply not good enough to point out the financial disparities that exist or the in-built disadvantages from arriving at the top table via the Championship play-off route. Nor is there one, concise, all-encompassing factor behind this sorry state of affairs. City's recruitment understandably will be heavily scrutinised, the scouting network that Neil again alluded to in the aftermath of this defeat was not fit for purpose last summer. But it is also the tactical mistakes, the naivety at times of a manager learning in the toughest school there is and the basic individual errors from a group of players who demonstrated in those brief consistent flurries that they could pick up points in the Premier League.
Norwich may ultimately pay the price for failing to play catch-up last summer once the euphoria of Wembley had subsided. There must be no repeat now. Should City's fate be sealed beyond any doubt by the time they leave the pitch against the Hornets those who matter inside the football club must be ruthless and forensic in facing some uncomfortable truths. This is no time for egos or passing the buck. The inevitable churn to a playing squad that in the last few games looked stale and rudderless is only one part of the equation. There needs to be a clear corporate strategy for the fightback and a swift, pragmatic drive to maximise the financial advantages in City's favour next season.
Norwich may have come up short on the pitch but they would return to the Championship in an enviable position on the balance sheet. That is cold comfort now but favourable conditions exist to repeat not just what they did under Neil but what Burnley have achieved this season. To put things right they have to first be honest and open in dealing with what went wrong.