Torpedoed’ Worthy in need of a lifeline

At the end of August, it would have taken a brave man - or one with remarkable foresight - to suggest that both Colchester United and Ipswich Town would be above Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Championship table on the last day of September.

At the end of August, it would have taken a brave man - or one with remarkable foresight - to suggest that both Colchester United and Ipswich Town would be above Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Championship table on the last day of September.

After the Canaries' 5-1 win over Barnsley, they were second in the table with 10 points from five games, with their East Anglian neighbours adrift in the bottom four.

Town were 21st with four points and Colchester 22nd with three.

A bookmaker would have offered long odds against both those teams overhauling Nigel Worthington's men before the start of October.

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Yet, after Essex Man triumphed over Tractor Boy in last night's derby match at Layer Road, that was the blunt reality confronting Canary followers.

Before today's league programme, Ipswich were eighth and Colchester ninth, each three points ahead of City, trailing in 15th place. City may be lower still tonight, depending on this afternoon's results.

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Now it's true that at this rather fluid stage of the season, victory over Burnley tomorrow would put the Canaries back on level points with their Suffolk and Essex rivals, and though parity with their poor relations is hardly something to celebrate, 14 points from 10 games would not, under normal circumstances, be cause for demonstrations. It would in fact be five points more than they had at the same stage last season.

But these are not normal circumstances, and everyone heading for Carrow Road tomorrow knows it.

Worthington has survived some difficult days in nearly six years as City boss but this surely must have been the worst week of all, and having been a victim of friendly fire from his own boardroom, it will take a monumental effort from the manager and, of course, his players for him to survive this one.

Nearly 800 fans made a 750-mile round trip to Plymouth last Saturday to cheer on his team, only to be treated to yet another dismal away performance. Two points from the first five away games and just six wins in the last 47 league matches on their travels is bad enough, but for City to save arguably their worst display of all for the longest journey of the season was simply asking for trouble.

Worthington apologised and accepted responsibility for the result, his players apologised for their sub-standard display and then the club's majority shareholders apologised on behalf of the board, bemoaning the lack of passion and commitment in the team's performance at Home Park. But they didn't leave it at that.

It's not clear whether Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones were aware on Monday afternoon that another protest was being planned by “Worthy Out” campaigners before tomorrow's game. But if they were hoping to defuse a potentially hostile situation by issuing a statement trying to reassure fans that the manager's card had been marked and that matters were in hand, it has merely turned up the heat, shall we say, in the kitchen.

It is one thing telling the manager behind closed doors that he has two games to sort things out. It is another thing entirely to tell the whole world.

Many a manager has been victim of the dreaded vote of confidence - the traditional prelude to the sack. But here was virtually a vote of no confidence, and a very public one at that.

As if losing the support of his two staunch allies was not bad enough, Worthington then had to read newspaper headlines relating to a bust-up between two of his players.

Details of the incident are sketchy - and City insist it was a brief training ground fracas between Dickson Etuhu and Youssef Safri rather than a full-blooded row on the team bus.

But though both players came forward on Thursday to clear the air and stress the healthy team spirit at Colney, the incident added to the impression that the wheels were, if not coming off, then certainly wobbling.

Now even City's East Anglian neighbours are sitting above them in the Championship table and Sky Sports, having packed up their equipment at Layer Road last night, are licking their lips at the prospect of the Canaries parading their dirty washing to a national audience tomorrow, as one presenter proclaimed last night, “in high definition”. Indeed.

There were many times last season when one wondered whether Worthington would hang on to his job.

The 1-0 home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday in October set the scene for what might have been a stormy annual meeting in front of 600 shareholders just 48 hours later, but in fact turned out to be an evening largely of hot air, obfuscation and trivial argument.

Results and performances continued to fluctuate until a purple patch brought five successive wins, the December Manager of the Month award for Worthington, and fresh hope that City had at last turned the corner.

But January was a disaster, clouded by the unseemly transfer saga surrounding Dean Ashton, and February began with an excruciating home defeat by Ipswich. Despite an impressive sequence of results at home - one that continued into the new season with three excellent victories - the discontent of Worthington's opponents has never been far below the surface.

Letters and e-mails we have received this week suggest that even those supporters who have backed the manager until now seem to have had enough.

One away season ticket-holder talked of getting up at 2.30am last Saturday in time to catch his coach at Carrow Road for the trip to Plymouth, only to witness what he described as no gameplan, no leadership, and not one player emerging with any credit.

“I have always supported Nigel Worthington, but enough is enough,” he wrote after the 3-1 defeat.

Another lifelong City fan, planning a weekend in London around the Queen's Park Rangers game, opted for gallows humour. “I've got my tickets for Worthington's leaving do,” he told me.

When even the most fair-minded of fans believe the writing is on the wall, the manager's position has to be extremely precarious.

Torpedoed below the waterline by his own admirals, it may take nothing less than an October Manager of the Month award to keep Worthington afloat this time.

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