Michael Bailey: Reality bites as Norwich City are left to digest their rebuild under Stuart Webber, while the Championship's big hitters are consumed by their promotion bids
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Perhaps the toughest thing about Wednesday's Huddersfield humiliation was that there are still six games of the season to go.
Penning my thoughts on that midweek Championship capitulation in such picturesque surroundings within minutes of both the full-time whistle and exasperated post-match interviews from Alan Irvine and Russell Martin was easy enough. The adjectives flowed like the Terriers’ possession, and there was little by way of resistance.
And yet after such a listless, rudderless, leaderless night in Yorkshire, we could all travel back in the knowledge the fully pumped quintet of Reading, Fulham, Preston, Brighton and Leeds await between now and QPR’s final fling.
Huddersfield’s players and supporters bounced with a momentum City know all about from their recent adventures. The next five sides will turn up with similar feelings – one may have already sealed the deal.
They will all be tough to watch for those of a yellow and green persuasion, ostracised from the adrenaline of a promotion push for the majority of the campaign.
At least only two more trips beyond the county borders remain. It says all you need to know that such a sentiment actually stands – and given Wednesday’s efforts, it might not be just the supporters and correspondents thinking it.
On our way back south, this popped on the car radio: “This team has been used to having a lot of the ball, to outplaying the opposition. So to me, if we can add a real aggressive, strong defensive structure then we’ve got the forward players to win any game. For me, that’s a really obvious thing to do.
“I think if you look at the best teams in this division…they will have conceded the fewest goals, and that base gives them the chance – then you only need one bit of quality to win the game. Some of the games previously – just in my opinion – ability alone is not going to win you games.
“You’ve got to add that work ethic, that desire and drive. It’s something that’s been synonymous with our teams in the past, so we’ll try to add that.
“I just think having a clear direction of what we expect and a standard, they then know what to do to stay in the team.”
All of that could have applied to Norwich City, or could be said by Stuart Webber when he speaks to us for the first time on Friday lunchtime.
But those actual quotes were from the mouth of new Derby manager Gary Rowett, fresh from taking seven points out of a possible nine after his first three games in charge at the Rams.
And his Talksport interview didn’t stop there: “If we get all our injured and loan players back, we’d have about 26 players; 26 very good, talented Championship players – and you’re just not going to get a very good squad balance and happiness and competition from that.”
For context, Norwich City currently have 34 players on their books one way or another, that have made a first-team appearance during their spell at Carrow Road.
At least what City have now is a focal point. Having written about Webber’s certain arrival at City last month, I’ll admit to being more blasé about the responsibility he had for the rebuild that’s taken place at Huddersfield. Having spoken to people around John Smith’s Stadium this week, it’s clear just how highly regarded Webber was, how much of a grip he had on the players and management heading into the club and therefore, how well he turned a vision and philosophy into a working team. One that has blown City off the pitch twice in the same Championship season.
Webber will believe he can carry out a similar rebuild at Norwich – be it Carrow Road or Colney. And he won’t have waited until being confirmed in post to get to work.
But the task that awaits him is far greater than at Huddersfield.
The wage bill and squad will be culled significantly – through both competitive need and financial necessity. It’s not just about the players City want to let go either, but the offers that will come in for those they want to keep.
Terriers chairman Dean Hoyle proved in the last fortnight he shares David McNally’s talent for digging in his heels. Webber will need similar from his new bosses if – hypothetically obviously – a promoted Leeds or Brighton fancy recruiting a Howson or Pritchard.
Regardless of structures, Webber will never – ever – be able to do this on his own. That’s not how it works at Southampton, how it worked at Huddersfield, or anywhere else. Still, at least there is someone in a permanent position that can tell the players what they need to be told.
And it’s curing that vacuum that might at least make the next six games a little more bearable.