Avoiding the drop will be new man's priority

PUBLISHED: 17:30 07 October 2006 | UPDATED: 09:42 14 September 2010

DAVID CUFFLEY

The morning after the night before brought the media flocking to Carrow Road in the hope of gleaning a few hints about the kind of man Norwich City would be looking for as a replacement for Nigel Worthington as manager.

The morning after the night before brought the media flocking to Carrow Road in the hope of gleaning a few hints about the kind of man Norwich City would be looking for as a replacement for Nigel Worthington as manager.

A little more than two hours after Sunday's 4-1 humiliation at the hands of Burnley, those reporters still awaiting developments in the Press lounge - its grey, submarine surroundings somehow appropriate for such a rock bottom occasion - were handed a brief statement to the effect that Worthington had “parted company” with the club. His contract had been “terminated with immediate effect”.

It is funny how football clubs can't bring themselves to use the word sacked, though at least we were spared the “by mutual consent” line that went with Bryan Robson's exit from West Bromwich Albion and has accompanied so many similar departures. I think I would rather just be sacked than be seen to have agreed with the decision.

Still, whoever posted the story on the club's official website quickly cut to the chase - perhaps an unfortunate word to use when talking about managerial departures from Norwich City. “Worthington Sacked” proclaimed the headline.

But there was to be no further comment from club officials on Sunday night, so with apologies to Flanders and Swann, 'twas on the Monday morning the Pressmen came to call.

However, if they were hoping for a few golden nuggets of information for their lunchtime bulletins regarding the search for a new manager, it was soon clear they were not going to get any.

Worthington, not surprisingly, was not present - though in less sensitive days several City managers have had to face the Press post-mortem before having the chance to clear their desks - and neither was first team coach Martin Hunter, the man put in caretaker charge of an out-of-sorts squad.

So what followed, in the erstwhile manager's absence, began more like one of those Bafta tributes.

Chief executive Neil Doncaster started by paying tribute to “one of Norwich City's greatest ever managers” for his achievements and for his dignity and courage in the way he dealt with his exit.

Joint majority shareholder Delia Smith echoed those sentiments and said: “Whichever football club employs Nigel is a very lucky football club because he is a great manager.”

Had he been there to hear such a tribute from his former employers, Worthington might have been wondering why they decided to get rid of him in the first place.

But the questioning moved on to his successor. Nobody expects a club to publicise their ideal short list, unless they have unscrupulous reasons for doing so, but there wasn't even a hint of the kind of manager City will look for - old hand, rising star, in house appointment, complete newcomer?

“We're looking for high calibre,” said joint majority shareholder Michael Wynn Jones. “We have very positive views about the type of manager we want but I'm not going to go into that in detail now. But they will have to match up to that.”

Doncaster added: “I'm not going to speculate about who might be considered. I'm not going to speculate about what the timescales should be. We would obviously like to get on with the process as soon as possible, that process has started, and we would look to make an appointment as soon as we can.

“We've had expressions of interest from a number of high-calibre individuals.”

Other than confirming that an application from Hunter would be welcome, not a single name was mentioned on Monday, and Doncaster has since refused to comment on any aspect of the search for Worthington's successor - the length of the short list, when the interviews would start, or the likely timescale involved.

But Wynn Jones was not understating the case when he described it as “a pivotal movement” for the club.

While the questioning focused on City's ambitions and expectations and the importance of trying to regain Premiership status before the parachute payments run out, it's easy to overlook the fact that the first task for the new manager is to ensure that the current slump - one point from the last five games, remember - does not threaten their current Championship status.

Even after the 5-1 win over Barnsley, Worthington talked, presciently as it turned out, about his first target as getting enough points to avoid relegation.

We are constantly reminded about the huge strides made by the club over the past five or six years, and there have been many, but the fact remains that in the most important respect of all - the league table - there is little difference between December 2000 and October 2006.

Eleven points from 10 games is, at least in proportion, only fractionally better than the 20 points from 20 games Worthington inherited from Bryan Hamilton. Hamilton's reign ended with five straight league defeats, Worthington signed off with one draw and four defeats.

It is, of course, a couple of months earlier in the season than 2000 and it could be argued that most of the current players are of a higher calibre than some of Hamilton's disastrous signings, though anyone watching the last three matches couldn't even be sure of that. And, numerically, the squad is certainly thinner.

Turning the tide will be a major task in itself for a new manager, before anyone can begin to talk about promotion, or even play-off places.

This managerial appointment is the most important since, well, the last one - only more so. Get it right and there is still enough time for City to have a say in the promotion race. Get it wrong and their run of 47 successive seasons in the top two divisions of English football could be at serious risk. Bigger clubs than Norwich have found themselves in what we used to call the third division.

EYES WILL BE ON EARNIE

A tally of eight goals in 10 games has left Robert Earnshaw joint top scorer in the Championship, no mean feat given City's current league position.

It also makes it 16 goals in 25 appearances for the Wales international since joining the Canaries on the last day of January.

Whisper it very quietly, but that's the sort of form that, if maintained, is bound to alert Premiership clubs in the January transfer window. Blackburn, with their all-Welsh management team, are among those well aware of Earnshaw's capabilities.

City, needless to say, won't want to contemplate that idea in the current state of affairs - and after all the agonies of the Dean Ashton saga earlier this year.

But they will surely need to be part of the promotion picture in January to be in a position to ward off the vultures.

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