Well, that didn’t quite go according to plan, did it? Dan Brigham and Jon Rogers on Alex Neil’s identity crisis, Patrick Bamford, a kind act of charity, a right-back muddle, goalkeeping dilemmas and needing to be brave
Bamford must start
Finding a positive from that performance is like sifting through a landfill site for a fresh-smelling duvet. But Paddy van Bamswinkel got himself into more good positions in 15 minutes than the rest of our strikers have throughout the entire season.
Bamford's great in the box, makes intelligent runs and pulls defenders out of position, leaving more room for the likes of Steven Naismith and Wes Hoolahan to buzz about in. He’s the perfect Alex Neil striker: like Lewis Grabban, but a far better finisher and with far better hair.
While Dieumerci Mbokani is brilliant at holding the ball up, he’s too static, has little instinctive movement and lumbers into the box like he thinks there’s a queuing system in place. He’s also a magnet for Norwich to hoof balls towards him, like an aggressive game of wall-ball. If Neil wants to get Norwich back to playing the way he likes football being played, Bamford has to start from now until the end of the season. DB
Time to settle on a right-back
We’ve had five right-backs this season – FIVE! Hardly any of them have had a decent run at it.
Steven Whittaker’s garden is looking wonderful with all the leave he is on. Andrew Isdom (not a typo) – well, I’m not sure what he’s done wrong apart from being from Liverpool. Robbie Brady got one (successful) game there against Manchester City. Ivo Pinto’s £3m seems like a lot of money to leave on a bench and, as for Russell Martin, he looks as confident as an 11-year-old on his first day at a new school.
I really hope Neil chooses one, puts his faith in him and keeps him in the side: we need understanding and confidence back into our defence. We need stability. JR
An identity crisis
Sometimes, when things get busy, when things are stressful, it’s difficult to take a step back, breathe and clear your mind. Perhaps this is what Neil needs now. The pressure of the Premier League, the relentless scraping to keep above the bottom three, means his mind is in a fug. All he's thinking about is today, tomorrow and the next match. Not the bigger picture.
He's forgotten what he, and Norwich, are good at. We’re not good at sitting deep and breaking quickly. We’re not good at whacking it up to a big centre-forward and hoping we'll pick up the scrappiest of scraps. But we are good at getting it down and playing, at keeping possession and utilising a striker who uses cunning rather than brute force. Hoolahan, Jonny Howson, Nathan Redmond, Brady and Naismith are ball-players, and we need to play to their strengths - as we were earlier in the season when we swept aside Bournemouth and Sunderland, and took the game to Stoke and West Ham.
The echoes of that Newcastle mauling are still haunting Neil, it seems. Tightening up a bit – and making sure one of our defence midfielders always sat – was the right thing to do. But we’re sitting deep too often, and lumping it forward to Mbokani too often. We've got away from what Neil really believes in.
There have been moments in this horror run when we've played some really good attacking football – for 60 minutes against Liverpool, for much of the game against Stoke, despite Gary O’Neil’s season-changing sending off. So the muscle memory of playing incisive, attacking football is still there for the players. But, before that disappears entirely, Neil needs to take a step back and trust in what made him such a bright young manager. Otherwise Norwich will lose their identity entirely, and with it their chances of survival. DB
I’m not sure if Declan Rudd is the answer, right now. He is an excellent keeper, who brought us a couple of clean sheets early on in his spell. His shot-stopping is superb, but his decision-making and organisational ability looks too raw still.
He has torn off his line a few times in the last few games, looking like a kid with ADHD at a sports day, and each time it seems to end up disastrously. Everton in the cup, Benik Afobe’s kick, and trying to close down Gabby Agbonlahor at the weekend.
That was the worst one for me, on Saturday. He turned the Villa striker’s half chance moving away from goal, into a near open goal. And their second goal was so crucial. Nineteen goals conceded in six games can’t be ignored. If John Ruddy’s performances in training are impressing, it might be time for another change. JR
It’s time to be brave
We’ve all said it from the moment we were promoted. In fact, "Not improving the defence in the summer is going to cost us" has been said so often that it's nailed on to become the title of the 2015-16 DVD.
The individual errors made all season by the back four has started to erode confidence across all parts of the pitch. When players know they’re probably going to have to score two or three – or six – goals to win a match, it causes a drip, drip, drip of anxiety, and a shit, SHIT, SHIIIIT of anger.
Norwich haven’t stopped playing for their manager, as some have claimed. They’ve stopped being brave on the ball and brave in the tackle because they know how costly individual errors have been this season. They've become the gawky, timid, socially awkward brother of the swaggering, handsome, confident team from the start of the season.
If Neil manages to get his men playing with confidence again – and he can only really do that by letting them go out there and letting our ball-players express themselves without, ironically, the fear of consequence – then it’ll be an even greater achievement than getting Hamilton promoted, winning at Celtic Park or winning at Wembley. DB
Charity starts away
I don’t do as much charity work as I should. I always give my change to the charity tin, I did a couple of flop charity songs and I have a direct debit or two – but overall, not enough.
Yet on Saturday, I saw how good charity can be. I felt extra proud of Norwich City giving something back to the people of Birmingham. The accent, those surroundings, that team – they have it tough. So I thought that those three points were like a care-in-the-community for the Brummie people. JR
The Nigel Pearson irony
There have been quite a few calls from Norwich fans for Nigel Pearson to replace Neil (we'll ignore those who've suggested we get Jose Mourinho in until the end of the season. It was an emotional day). But isn't there a bit of irony at play here? Despite Leicester being bottom of the league last season, Pearson wasn't sacked, and was instead given time to turn things round. And he did.
Yet some Norwich fans want to ignore what Leicester did, not give Neil time, sack him and bring in Pearson – the manager who has most benefitted from being given time. Sometimes it’s far better to stick than twist. Leicester proved that and, with how well Burnley and Hull are doing in the Championship, they’re also proving that. Like Pearson at Leicester, Neil deserves time to turn things around. DB
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