Rotherham United. Fair to say, its not been their season. Norwich need to win. So, Jon Rogers speaks to Rotherham fan David Rawson about coach's handbrakes, merchandise and blancmange moulds.
Jon: Hey David. Now, last time we spoke you said Norwich would win by two goals but would have to really work for it. It was 3-1. We had to really work for it. What are you? Some sort of shaman?!
David: Let's say, yes. But actually, no; it's just that all our away games are the same. A battle for a bit and then we go under. Largely because we can't, in any meaningful sense, defend - individually or collectively. We couldn't park the bus even if we wanted to - the handbrake doesn't work.
(I should clarify that (a) that I'm unsure if buses have handbrakes, but have assumed they for the purposes of weak analogy and (b) when I say all our away games are the same, I could also remove the word away from the sentence. We can't defend at home, either.
Jon: We're very similar when we knob about in the Premier League. We put decent performances in a game with Everton, for example, but always seem to walk away with nowt but ticket stubs between our legs. Do you think the Championship is one step too far for you, in the same, Premier might be one for us?
David: I don't see we couldn't, in principle, operate in the Championship. But, absent the big money of parachute payments and without huge crowds, we need to be smart. And we've not been smart.
Under Steve Evans, we turned over at least half the squad every transfer window, and shipped players in and out on loan like we were running a package holiday company for footballers rather than a professional sports club. And it worked, because playing in a perpetual frenzied "now" and borrowing the sort of talent that we couldn't afford to sign outright made us competitive. But that came at the cost of having a platform, a core squad (barring maybe two or three) to build from.
So we appoint Redfearn, who's all about coaching and development, but lose patience when players who aren't good enough yet but could have potential turn out not to be good enough yet. Warnock creates a brand new side of free agents, saves us, dithers and then does one in the summer and Stubbs comes in and ruins everything, in an impressively comprehensive way.
So, on the pitch, we were set up to sit back and defend our 18 yard line, with no real challenge before (just a funnelling back of bodies to no effect). But our players can't defend against the kind of probing play that invites. And we didn't press, so we got caught out when attacked so often. Result? Decent passages of play, but few chances (and fewer good chances) created and loads of chances given up. Now, we're trying to be more resilient, but confidence is low and the pre-season die was cast.
Jon: What happened with Kenny J? Was a shock him leaving from the rest of the Champs point of view. Eyebrows always raise when someone who walks after a short time.
David: We don't know. There was nothing that changed, on the face of it, in the month of so he was around. (Interestingly, he didn't really improve us much: I'd argue we've got better under Warne than we did under Jackett). It's unlikely that the terms of the job, or the likely outcome of the season, had changed much. Maybe his family didn't fancy moving. Maybe we'd run out of clothing related puns on his surname. There were a lot of those during his tenure, so that's my theory.
Jon: I always thing the merchandising that comes with Kenny is worth his job role alone. Who wouldn't want the Official Kenny Jackett Jacket? It would be grey, very neat and nothing out of place but ultimately bit boring.
David: He made us a bit more organised and we were more rigidly 4-4-2, but it was basically pouring blancmange into a different mould. New shape, still entirely soft & easy to punch through. But his nous would have been useful for the rebuild that is to come, and , of course, the aforementioned pun-fest and sartorial merchandising opportunities.
Jon: I'm all about the SMOs! So January sales is open. What will you, hope to and want to spend Rotho's pocket money on?
David: Tricky. There's not too much point (sniff!) in trying to assemble a team to keep us up. Can we start building for next year? Is there good value available? How can we squad build without a manager in place on a permanent basis? The usual thing to do in this situation, I understand, is to spunk £5m on Ade Akinbiyi, but he's retired. Rumours link us with Grimsby's Omar Bogle, who has an excellent name, but about whom I know little.
Jon: Oh we've been link with him too. No idea what merch he can bring to the party. Not sure many will want to buy a small annoying brass instrument. You're resigned to relegation then?
David: Not resigned, but realistic. 12 points is *a lot* of points. We're gathered 1 point away from home to date. We've won three games all season. Oxford beat us rather too easily. Our goalkeeper is out for the season. Our most talented player got recalled by Chelsea & sent to Huddersfield. Thus, I grow discouraged.
Jon: Oh. Still you have a nice... ground? Sorry mate. Come back stronger eh? Let's talk Saturday? What’s your home form been like? And what do you expect at 5pm? (Btw it was a bugle. Bogle's Bugle. ...Yeh)
David: I think, though not all would agree, that we've been ok at home under Warney. It didn't run for us against Burton, which we deserved something from. A lot turns on whether Lee Frecklington is fit. His drive and enthusiasm makes us tick. If he and Odemwingie can play even 60 minutes, I'm more hopeful than if, say, Blackstock "plays".
With Frecks in the side and assuming we don't sell Ward before the game, I think we might spring a surprise, especially if we get the first goal early-ish. Warney will have them roused against his home town club. Equally, if we concede, we tend to slump and concede again. So, I'd say 2- 1 either way, but 60 / 40 an away win.
Oh and I’ve JUST learnt that Frecks is out for 3-4 weeks, so hmm.
Jon: Frecking hell then. Thanks David.