Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City is proving the pessimists right

Norwich City manager Alex Neil and first team coach Gary Holt strive for some answers at Villa Park.

Norwich City manager Alex Neil and first team coach Gary Holt strive for some answers at Villa Park. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

That air of resignation and fatalism is no longer the preserve of the pessimists. Norwich City are stumbling towards the Championship.

There is almost an acceptance of the Canaries' fate now, certainly amongst a growing number of their supporters with recent experience of a turbulent Premier League exit.

Alex Neil maintained after a fifth straight league defeat against a club propping up the rest that the belief inside the camp remains intact. There is precious little evidence.

Neil's Norwich are no longer a team, they are increasingly a collection of dysfunctional parts. The most unfathomable contradiction sucking City below the waterline is just how a manager so full of aggressive intent and bullish self-confidence can preside over a side exhibiting none of those admirable traits.

Norwich may simply have found their natural place in the Premier League pecking order, given the financial disparity to practically every other top flight rival. But the lack of fight, the lack of conviction is inexcusable.


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Look dispassionately at the league table, once the fog of Villa Park recedes, and Norwich still control their own destiny. This is not a hopeless cause, this is not a long, lonely trudge back to the Football League and all the uncertainty that entails. Neil's squad is four points behind fifth-from-bottom Swansea. City will play the Swans and relegation rivals Newcastle United and Sunderland before the final reckoning. A season of so much promise and Wembley bounce can be salvaged. But football is not a dispassionate game. It stirs emotions. It is as much about what you feel in the pit of your stomach watching your team as it is the finance, the commercial branding and the growing disconnect between those on the pitch and the terraces.

Norwich had seven players on duty at Villa Park who were part of the squad that went down two years ago. Perhaps the second time around will not sting as much. That willingness to fold in the toughest moments, to cower in the face of adversity, appear to have been remarkably resistant in the intervening period; a spell which covered a quite glorious march from the Championship under a hungry, fresh, vibrant young manager. Now his inexperience and age are increasingly used against him as a negative in the most exacting of environments.

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The searing focus on the Scot's ability to govern is predictable and inevitable after a wretched run following that festive fillip. Neil himself has often said strip away the cosmetic layers and his job is to win football matches. On that measure he is failing. You can sense the barely concealed exasperation in the manner he publicly questions his players' mental strength and appetite for the scrap; qualities he had in abundance as a player in a career that by his own admission never hit the heights. Be in no doubt the same accusations are levelled in the dressing room and on the training pitch. Neil is not a man who panders to the court of public opinion. If he was, Bradley Johnson would still be part of the landscape and Kyle Lafferty and Gary Hooper would have emerged from the shadows. Treat Neil's soundbites as another tool designed to spark a group of talented individuals into a concerted response before it is too late and the post-mortems can begin in earnest.

The brutal words counter-balance a revolving selection policy which must take account not only of suspensions and injuries but a prolonged downturn in results. There will be more debate now over the days prior to West Ham's visit. Declan Rudd's rashness at Bournemouth, when he raced off his line to confront Benik Afobe, could have cost him a three-game ban. At Villa Park it cost City a goal as Gabby Agbonlahor tormented Norwich once again to stunt any prospect of a second half revival.

Neil knows there is a clamour for John Ruddy's return but as he himself pointed out in the bowels of Villa Park after another dispiriting effort there was a similar clamour for Ruddy's removal. It is hard to argue.

Dieumerci Mbokani's slackness to first concede a free-kick and then fail to subdue Joleon Lescott had already contrived to wreck 45 minutes of encouraging application in the final seconds of the opening period; two more depressing episodes in a catalogue of individual aberrations.

Whatever the perceived limitations of Norwich's manager, his players are failing to deliver. They know that themselves. They do not need berating in the media or by supporters.

You can level many accusations at Neil's under-performing squad, but a lack of honesty is not one of them. If Norwich's headlong descent to the Football League is irreversible then the bare minimum they should offer is to go down fighting; not hide behind their manager for excuses.

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