Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City’s Championship slog descends into farce
PUBLISHED: 09:04 27 December 2016 | UPDATED: 16:18 27 December 2016
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Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody does it better’ reverberated around the Madejski at the final whistle. They got that right after Norwich City underlined they retain the exclusive rights on calamitous Championship implosions.
Remember Newcastle United away. Leading deep into stoppage time yet contriving to leave the pitch at St James’ Park with no points and a barrage of recriminations. That was a one-off. Surely it could never happen again. Remember Leeds United away. Okay, the EFL Cup is not the league but it featured many of the same culprits and the same sickening outcome. Norwich led in extra-time, with Leeds a man light for the entire duration of the additional 30 minutes, yet exited the competition on penalties. Twice in a season. Just unfortunate.
Add Brighton, add QPR, add Barnsley, Huddersfield and now Reading. All differing degrees of the same toxic substance that has infected every pore of this football club. A collective abdication of responsibility in the defining moments, an individual lack of culpability.
Yes, Graham Dorrans left the field in the most bizarre of circumstances, when Paul McShane took it upon himself to kick ball and man in a bid to take a quick Reading free -kick after Steven Naismith had given the ball away. That was a tough break for Alex Neil and a set of players who had started in encouraging fashion against a team willing to concede time and space rather than adopt the same suffocating tactics of previous opponents.
But hard luck stories are the preserve of those who look for excuses rather than seek to shape their own destiny. Norwich’s latest woeful attempts to defend set-pieces was ultimately what cost them another three points and their captain, Jonny Howson, for the pending trip to Brentford, after emulating Martin Olsson at Loftus Road with a desperate handball attempt on his own line that resulted in a red card and a penalty.
Neil was right to highlight the deficiencies of those under his command as he sifted through another debrief, but he picks the personnel. Timm Klose kicked his heels again on the bench whilst Ryan Bennett and Seb Bassong underlined they are not the answer. Klose arguably had no complaints at his demotion for some lacklustre offerings that culminated in another low point at Brighton, but equally City’s porous streak in his absence merely strengthens his claims for a reprieve.
What happens on the pitch in this deep depression is almost incidental now to the verdict of those on the terraces and the boardroom. Neil was again predictably berated for culling Nelson Oliveira in the second-half, following Howson’s dismissal, as he sought to use the pace of Cameron Jerome to compensate for the numerical disadvantage.
Reading’s fans were not the only ones mocking Neil in relation to his apparent declining job prospects. But those who matter sit and wait. And watch, and continue to hope Neil can halt the decline. The tipping point has long been reached. Promotion is now a distant dream. With each passing game, each defeat, each fresh inquest it is survival that should concern the powers-that-be. Only those harbouring the last traces of complacency which was put forward as the reasons for City’s decline from that September high point would dismiss the prospect out of hand.
Norwich are unable to defend, unable to repel aggressive, high-pressing midfields and up front only Oliveira is scoring in regular quantities, before he makes way for Jerome to spark another burst of fan fury. These are desperate times for Norfolk’s premier footballing institution. There is a chasm, a growing disconnect that threatens to cause irreparable damage the longer there is no common ground between those who lead and those who follow. The circus moves on to Brentford.