Michael Bailey: The reason for Norwich City’s recent improvement? How about Alex Neil’s players actually doing it for themselves
PUBLISHED: 06:02 06 January 2017 | UPDATED: 15:46 06 January 2017
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When times get tough, there are a few clichés that get repeated freely – and a key one I find myself looking for revolves around a single word: responsibility.
Be it a player struggling for form and always seemingly between passes or unavailable for the ball, to another one lacking the confidence to beat a goalkeeper and laying on a harder chance for someone else.
I’ve only played a limited amount of football, and none of it at any level worthy of note – yet I know enough to have felt those scenarios.
And like anything in football, what is felt individually is easily transposed across a team.
It’s not an obvious dereliction of duty. Such fine margins perforate the game that in truth, blanket statements refer only to a few percentage points: They weren’t trying? Just not as much as their opponents. They don’t want it? Just not as much as some others.
So of course, what Norwich City have been through in recent months has brought all this to the surface – questions deservedly asked of both players and manager.
Following Monday’s superb win over Derby it wasn’t Alex Neil’s ‘witch hunt’ comment that caught my attention – although I wonder if he’d phrase it differently if he got another go tomorrow. No, it was his quizzical expression at where that Bank Holiday performance had come from, having acknowledged he’d done nothing different in preparing his team for some time.
And naturally having spent months wondering why it had all gone so wrong for the Canaries since their stellar start, the crux question since Monday for all of us has been, why the improvement?
Well my stab is drawn to the reintroduction of one thing.
You see, I never had any issue with the loss of City’s huddle – but what I could never understand was the logic required in deciding to stop doing it. Why would you? Why turn down showing a bit of unity and having a word with each other – just you and your team-mates – moments before #pitchwar? (One for all you Ivo Pinto fans there)
Even then, my feelings on the matter were far from strong – until Russell Martin took it upon himself to bring up to me that he had made sure the huddle returned to City’s set-up when he did likewise, at Griffin Park on that wonderful night of New Year’s Eve football in west London.
There’s no doubt the huddle probably had little influence in itself – but its presence, along with what the City skipper told me afterwards, smacked of responsibility.
Of the captain deciding he needed to have a word with his team-mates before battle. Of his team-mates deciding they needed some solidarity – at the very least to show it before kick-off. And by hook or by crook since, through red cards and terrible starts, they’ve shown it. They’ve shown responsibility.
Arguably that’s what has changed. In the words of their manager, he’s done little different. It’s his players that have decided they have to take care of business themselves.
Maybe Alex Neil’s quiet threat that not all of City’s ills would be solved with his sacking, rang true.
And in a month like January with all that speculation ready for firing, feeling settled doesn’t really come with the transfer window territory.
But since August it’s never been about how City got the job done, just simply getting it done in the first place – and it’s good to see that responsibility now taken seriously.
• JUST SAYING…
• I don’t get out very much now I have the privilege of being dad to a little boy with more energy than Gary Holt in his prime – but Tuesday is one such evening, and it should be a good’un.
The Norwich City Fans Social Club is hosting a Pundits Night at the top of City Lounge, Carrow Road (entrance in South Stand main reception) – and in a role reversal to The Pink Un Show each Wednesday, this time I’ll be grilled by Darren Eadie; as will fellow guests, City legend-turned-pundit Iwan Roberts and BBC Radio Norfolk’s Rob Butler. It costs £3 for adults, £1 for children and promises to be a night with a difference.
Needless to say, we’ll all look forward to being asked some tough questions.
• Derby can count themselves very lucky the Football Association don’t still penalise frivolous appeals – because that’s what they did on Wednesday with Jacob Butterfield.
As for Robbie Brady, for me he was unlucky but always unlikely to win his appeal.