Norwich’s winners, Nelson Oliveira’s opt out, Norwich City’s Martin Olsson delusion and the fact it’s all over – Six Things we learned from the Canaries’ Championship self-destruction at Rotherham United
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After another new low in a rapidly unravelling season, Michael Bailey brings you his finest half-dozen lessons from New York Stadium.
1 – There were still Norwich winners
On a day City lost, Norwich still won.
There was the man reluctantly thrust into the Millers dugout of course – more on him in a moment. But the one who clearly relished coming up against the Canaries was a certain Tom Adeyemi.
I’ve known Tom a fair while now and spoken to him many times. He’s intelligent, articulate, courteous and a real worker with real ability.
He used to sit in the Barclay watching his team. He got to play for them. In many ways, he was – is – the epitome of what the Canaries’ academy should be doing: turning homegrown fans into professional players.
It’s just that his rise couldn’t keep pace with the club’s under Paul Lambert. Few could.
Adeyemi is now 25, and only at Rotherham on loan from Cardiff. The coming summer may be interesting.
But that rising header on Saturday is becoming a trademark, the relish he moved around the pitch was good to see and the Wes Hoolahan shirt he held as he spoke to me after the game said it all.
Fans of the club should also be fans of their city – and Tom is a product of both to take pride in.
2 – Warming up to Warne
And then there was the Millers boss. Paul Warne helped Diss Town lift the 1994 FA Vase at Wembley. He played for Wroxham. He even shared a Norwich 5-a-side team with yours truly once – one of those moments you realise you’ve got no hope of reaching their level.
Strikingly frank, Warne has said how much of the job he doesn’t enjoy and why he doesn’t want to keep doing it – although I wonder if he doth protest too much. He certainly doesn’t hate it enough to turn down doing it until June. Some think he’s starting to enjoy it – and for how hard it is take a defeat as manager, there’s almost certainly nothing like winning as one.
Warne emerged for kick-off against his home club in a bobble hat, holding a cuppa. He couldn’t have looked more striking, nor acted more at home.
Some have already noted how City’s young manager couldn’t get out of his team, what Rotherham’s fitness guy got out of his.
“We’ve only got Paul Warne” sung the Rotherham fans. Maybe that will be enough.
It would be some romantic story if it was – and any Norwich fan should be able to enjoy that.
3 – The Olsson delusion
Ignoring corners, six out of nine crosses came from City’s left flank. The Canaries’ heat map was starkly lopsided to attacking down their right flank. Meanwhile the Millers had just as much joy down the left as the right.
And this, don’t forget, against a Rotherham side cut adrift at the foot of the Championship with three wins to their name before Saturday – albeit against 10 men.
None of this is digging out Steven Whittaker, who in fact did well in what will never be his preferred position. The real issue is the prospect of no Martin Olsson or Robbie Brady being available to Alex Neil come February.
Both are still contracted to the club. Sure, selling them will bring in some money that may allow Alex Neil to bring in some players he wants.
But there’s no way City’s squad will be as strong on the other side of the deals, while most of the money will not go on replacements.
That reduction in quality, while not trusting in a youth prospect like Harry Toffolo, leaves the club in an uncomfortable limbo.
4 – Not even a half Nelson
Maybe Nelson Oliveira did want to be there, but his first 17 minutes didn’t necessarily show it. In fact, a bit of rough and tumble had already wound him up – you could tell by his flailing arms.
So in truth, when he reacted with another flailing arm directed at Kirk Broadfoot, it wasn’t a surprise – and neither was referee Geoff Eltringham reacting to the crowd and players with a red card.
The City players’ own reactions consisted of waved arms in denial, and that said it all.
Now, Eltringham was far from the best referee you’ll ever see. Likewise, Broadfoot held his face when contact was clearly to the back of his head. Still, Nelson presented a decision to be made, and it was. He now serves a three-game ban City can’t afford.
It also made it three reds in successive away games and four in six on the road.
Why? Different offences means it’s not just indiscipline and not just defensive issues – but definitely a combination of the two and something City cannot put down to misfortune.
It also underlines how long ago that unbeaten away record under Neil feels, and how much it needs sorting out. Now.
5 – It’s still far from unanimous
For Chris Hughton, there were numerous stays of execution. His run of pulling out a result when he needed it stood him in good stead – until a clapper hit him in the head and the entirety of Carrow Road spoke as one.
Alex Neil has enjoyed a similar trait, to a degree. When you felt the board might waver – such as at home to Brentford – his side delivered. The fact City can’t turn a win into a run is deemed a less punishable offence.
A lot of City fans have said their piece on Alex Neil in stadiums across the country and to a lesser extent, at Carrow Road.
But the word I’m yet to apply to any of the reactions – bearing in mind I wasn’t at Brighton – is unanimity. Again on Saturday, there were boos. The players got some applause and some stick. Some chanted for Neil’s dismissal – arguably more didn’t, and those that did soon stopped. Then you know you’ll look on social media an hour later, and the world is burning.
But it’s still curious to me that the fans paying their money, giving their time, don’t unanimously feel the need to vocalise for change. Well, not yet anyway.
6 – It’s pretty much over
Two-nil up at Craven Cottage, it was the stuff of dreams. Even giving up that lead but taking a point, still had a positive ring to it.
Since then only Bristol City have picked up fewer points (seven) than City’s 10. That is over 13 games and the Robins prove a club can have a worse run than City and not sack their manager, while being far closer to a relegation scrap than the one some Canaries fans are fearing.
It’s all a sobering thought – along with the fact Rotherham’s dismal run of losing 15 of their last 19 league games is not a million miles from City’s record: now nine defeats from their last 14.
For me, Saturday means it’s all over. Regardless of changing manager or keeping the squad together, City have too much work to do to claw back eight points to make the top six – and on top of that, beat teams with a season of proven form in the play-offs.
City are two points better off that the 35 they had at this stage of the 2005-06 season, as they failed to bounce back to the top flight.
This all feels the same, and it’s surely going to have the same ending.