Lee Payne: Norwich City's season has descended into farce

Max Aarons of Norwich and Ozan Kabak of Norwich look dejected at the end of the Premier League match

Max Aarons and Ozan Kabak can't hide their disappointment during City's defeat to Arsenal on Boxing Day - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Too often in this column, I've been accused of being overly optimistic when it comes to Norwich City. 

The below-the-line comments are always quick to let me know if I haven't quite been miserable enough. My last piece, in praise of Stuart Webber, was apparently sycophantic enough that some wondered if it was written by the sporting director himself. 

On this occasion, you find me about as low as I've ever been in my view of the state of our team. It was such a bruising December. As each game comes around, we hope in vain that City will put in a performance, but the fact is what was already the weakest squad is so depleted by illness and injury that they are going into a war armed only with a water pistol. 

I didn't go to Carrow Road on Boxing Day. I was with my family for Christmas and we all decided that the warm and dry house with its comfortable chairs and big telly was more appealing than traipsing to the match to watch a very predictable defeat. I never thought I'd be so willing to skip a home game - I mean, I once rushed back from a holiday to see a League Cup tie against Sunderland! 

The Covid situation has turned this season into a farce. There's no other way of putting it. We may no longer be playing into July or in empty grounds (at the moment) but the way some clubs have been forced to play without a number of key players while others have had matches postponed means we are not on a level playing field - not that we were to start with anyway. 

It's becoming increasingly clear that we simply haven't got the financial clout to compete in the Premier League. Despite our above average summer spending, we have failed to adequately replace the quality of Emi Buendia or Oliver Skipp and won't be able to buy anyone this month without selling first. January is known for its inflated prices anyway, so are we really going to be able to sign someone who might be able to make a difference with our budget? This would sadly be the truth even without the impact of the pandemic. 

In my mind, it was ludicrous that Norwich were made to play against Arsenal and Crystal Palace. I am making no excuses. We might well have lost those games, even at full strength. It wouldn't have been a foregone conclusion, though, as it was when we had to play with half a squad. Does this not already feel enough like a league we're not welcome in? 

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With this in mind, it has been incredibly grating to hear the moaning about the festive fixture schedule from managers like Chelsea's Thomas Tuchel and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp. Both of them have large, expensively assembled squads who should be able to cope with the demands of the English league at this time of year - it's not exactly new. Tuchel has an entire squad's worth of players who are away from the club on loan, including Billy Gilmour! 

It just gets me down that this is almost certainly going to be another relegation from the top flight and this time we won't have been given a fair crack of the whip. Norwich did well in Dean Smith's first game in charge against Southampton, and were superb in the undeserved 1-0 defeat to Manchester United in the second week of December. It was after that game that Covid hit the squad and nothing has gone right for City since. 

Safe to say that this isn't the best of times to have Norwich City FC and the England cricket team as your two sporting loves, as I do. It says a lot that I’m already wishing for this season to be over - and we've only just reached the halfway point.