Chris Goreham: Norwich City and Stuart Webber must not cut their nose off to spite their face this summer
PUBLISHED: 20:00 01 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:44 02 May 2017
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It's absurd that some Norwich City supporters still persist with the idea that teams stop trying when the season reaches the point that neither promotion nor relegation are possible.
That infamous and ignominious 6-0 defeat at Fulham in 2005 ought to have been enough to shock that notion from the system.
It was obvious again at Elland Road on Saturday. The 3-3 draw did little to affect where Norwich City might finish in the Championship this season but the fact that Alan Irvine, football’s most affable caretaker, was struggling to disguise his anger at the concession of a three-goal lead underlined that for the vast majority of people involved in the profession, the result always matters.
It also proves that Norwich City are just as erratic when the pressure is off as when it’s well and truly on. The same frailties that saw two-goal leads surrendered at Newcastle and Fulham in the autumn, when City still looked like they could be realistic contenders for automatic promotion, were exposed again. Only irresponsible dog owners can match their habit of letting go of the lead so regularly.
Irvine’s post-match scowl wasn’t simply because his side had failed to win. It was caused by the fact that they had managed to do so much right, producing arguably their best 45 minutes of football away from home this season before collapsing like an England batting order in a 1990s Ashes series.
This is why the summer that can’t come soon enough for the club is going to be far from black and white. The job that Stuart Webber has taken on in trying to sporting direct some consistency into the Canaries has at least 50 shades of grey.
It’s far too simplistic to beat chests and yell about the need for a Carrow Road clear out. Sure, some players do need to be moved on, but if they’re under contract they can only be farmed out to places that want them. There’s also the risk of cutting off quite a nice Norwich nose to spite our face.
For all the bad things that have happened this season and for all the shortcomings of which so much has been said and written, Norwich City have managed to find a squad of players capable of scoring 81 goals in 45 Championship games. That’s a brilliant record for a team in eighth place, beaten only by Newcastle (82) and Fulham (83) this season.
During that first half at Elland Road on Saturday they really did play some sensational stuff. Alex Pritchard, Steven Naismith, Josh Murphy and Nelson Oliveira were running the sort of rings round a jittery Leeds defence that would have made the Harlem Globetrotters purr.
To be able do that on what was the home side’s biggest and most important afternoon for several years was no mean achievement. Think back to August when the closure of the transfer window brought much wailing and gnashing of teeth from supporters about the lack of a shiny new striker.
The popular worry was that City lacked sufficient firepower to be a genuine force in the Championship. That has ultimately been the one thing they certainly have had.
Webber and co. have a tricky balancing act to perform this summer. How do they make Norwich City more resilient and more difficult to beat without blunting one of the most effective attacking forces in the division?
Would bringing in a new back four and goalkeeper solve the problems overnight? Probably not, given the number of different combinations that have been tried in that area this season with startlingly similar results.
These last few games of the season have been far from meaningless, they’ve outlined the jigsaw puzzle that needs solving over the summer. Whether all the pieces can be found in time will only be known when Norwich City go 2-0 up for the first time next season. I’m not sure my nerves will be able to stand it.
Life on the road with Norwich City
It’s been a pleasure following Norwich City away from home again this season.
Any disappointment about the results is offset by the huge pride of seeing so many loyal supporters clocking up the motorway miles and spending goodness knows how much money to swell the following in grounds up and down the country.
Life on the road does make you selfish though. That’s the only way I can rationally explain my attitude towards football results at this time of the year.
Next season’s Championship won’t have promoted Newcastle United in it while Wigan are already relegated so that’s two very long trips we won’t have to make, unless the cup draws are particularly cruel.
But we won’t be getting off lightly. Sunderland will definitely be dropping into the division, Middlesbrough look set to join them and the third Premier League relegation place is currently occupied by Swansea. If the Swans can’t pull their fingers out over the final three games of the season then the poor BBC Radio Norfolk Fiesta really will be straining in 2017/18. It’s not all chauffeur driven limousines in the media you know.
Bolton are coming up from League One, so that’s another schlep to the north west, and if Fleetwood win the play-offs that will be another 500-mile round trip to add to the list. Although if their manager Uwe Rosler does end up joining Norwich City in the summer, as some are suggesting, that achievement might be looked on a little more kindly.
I don’t know why I get so het up about it. Let’s face it, everywhere is miles away from Norfolk so we might as well stock up on travel sweets, I-spy books and compilation albums over the summer to help those hours tick by.
I still feel lucky to be making these journeys for a living and having the motorway as an office is well worth it when you get to meet so many jolly City supporters at service stations along the way. But that Fiesta is definitely my Player of the Season.