Six things we learned from Norwich City’s wretched afternoon in Birmingham
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After a desperate 3-0 Championship defeat for Norwich City at St Andrew's, Michael Bailey looks at the lessons learnt…
1 – Quite clearly, this isn't 2015
Even in isolation, defeats bring concerns. It can be the manner of it, side-issues around it or simply the fact it happened at all.
Many will call for perspective, which is healthy. But this point isn't about perspective. It's about context.
In City's previous Championship campaign, they lost by more than one goal only once – at Middlesbrough. Birmingham will be no Boro this season. And that defeat was of course, under Neil Adams rather than Alex Neil.
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In 2010-11, there was a 3-0 defeat at Swansea – who went up that season via the play-offs. That was City's only defeat by more than two goals for the entire campaign.
So it's fair to say Saturday was the worst second-tier defeat the club has suffered in three successful seasons at that level. Not great.
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But in the five games so far, it's clear Alex Neil's Championship game plan has evolved too.
The evidence says there is less desire for power, for direct play and for creating spaces. Instead it's triangles, compact pitches, intricacy – and it seems City aren't good enough to pull it off properly yet.
2 – City's character has gone missing
I might have to whisper this point carefully as plenty have made it over the last year – but for me, it didn't stand true.
Well, it didn't until Saturday's defeat.
Comparisons to two years ago have already been made a lot and will continue – and they are more worthwhile than usual, given not that much time has passed in between.
And if I am being honest, this one even caught me by surprise.
But the fact was at St Andrew's, City clearly missed Bradley Johnson.
That's the Bradley Johnson of two years ago, of course. He may not even exist anymore, given his position at Derby.
But either way, at Birmingham there was not a single player who offered the heart, example and leadership of a City number four who two years ago, took all the responsibility he could to drive City back from where they came.
And as the Blues proved, whatever his technical shortcomings were could easily be exceeded by the rest of his sizable qualities.
For me, there is no way Johnson was missed last season – but this term his character needs replacing, and needs replacing fast.
3 – He looked as unhappy as anyone
Let's be clear – no manager makes a decision without having his own logic for it.
The logic may be flawed, misguided or reckless – but hindsight can be cruel like that. It exposes you.
So the pre-match theory was there. Steven Naismith has good movement, can link play and help keep the ball moving.
Sadly, it's rare that a Championship match is played using an unsaid rule about keeping the ball below head height – and that was an issue every time City tried to clear their lines. In fact, it got to the point where City couldn't retain possession from a midfield throw-in because Naismith was a foot shorter than the numerous opposition defenders and midfielders crowding out City's number nine for a day.
Last season Alex Neil would regularly refer to making sure his XI on the pitch was big enough to compete. Such ideas shouldn't be ditched now.
As for Naismith, I don't know how he felt – but he looked like he was as happy playing up top on his own, as the City fans were watching it.
4 – Typical Championship challenge: FAIL
You could find mitigation in all four opening games of the Championship season for the Canaries.
Blackburn were woefully open, Wednesday were buoyant try-hards, Bristol City weren't sure what they were going to be and Ipswich was a derby ahead of selling Daryl Murphy. But this weekend was the real deal. A trip to a fallen giant, out of form with an average side and a useful manager, yet still hoping for a top-six miracle before May was done.
The task was openly discussed before the game: Birmingham would work hard, liked to counter and be well organised without anything approaching flashy. And while City were trying to play around corners and pass the ball into the net, the Blues picked a moment to break forward, one decent cross, another far-post header against a full-back – a constant City weakness – and Norwich never recovered from the blow.
The defensive lapses thereafter were woeful – that penalty challenge from Steven Whittaker was like a bad joke, and Alex Tettey's back pass wasn't funny. And in the Championship, those same tests will come round too regularly to keep failing.
5 – Goal-line technology anyone?
While I have already stated City's weekend defeat is as bad as it's been in the second tier since the 2008-09 season, the thing to remember is it could've been much worse.
City racked up a few shots on target – but they were all very comfortable saves for Tomasz Kuszczak. Anything else met a defensive block anyone would take pride in.
Meanwhile at the other end, a very useful-looking Che Adams took the ball around Michael McGovern but could only find the side-netting.
And of course, Blues defender Robert Tesche somehow struck the underside of the crossbar from a yard or two in front of an open Norwich goal.
What everyone seemed to ignore was the fact he scored. The ball still went behind the line as it crashed down from the woodwork. It looked it in real time too.
But ignore it they did – in a depressingly accepting way that screamed, 'We'll never have all that good stuff those Premier League clubs get'.
Goal-line technology is not a luxury. With what's at stake in the second tier, to not have it is just plain embarrassing – even if it did City a favour this time.
6 – Don't count chickens until Thursday
Jonny Howson told me immediately after Saturday's game that two weeks is a long time in football – yet imagine what can be achieved in the final 60 hours of a summer transfer window?
The Premier League is three games in and with only two days left to do any business, there may well be a few nervous managers and owners unwilling to miss one last chance to make a signing.
Certainly the bottom half of the fledgeling top-flight table will find the temptation hard to ignore.
After all, £15m may have felt a lot back in July – but what's an extra £2m now, if it saves you £100m come next summer?
Essentially, there is no telling who will come or go at Carrow Road before 11pm on Wednesday – although you imagine one or two City careers may well come to an end before the week is done.
And of course, with the lack of any loan windows for Football League clubs to operate in after Wednesday, all 92 are suffering the same summer transfer plight.
So pick your top transfer targets, pick the players you desperately want to stay – and keep those fingers tightly crossed.