Alex Neil is not going to be sacked any time soon. Whether you think that's a good or bad thing is for now a moot point, it's happening.
With that in mind, Duncan Edwards says it's time to get on with it.
So, Norwich City run out comfortable winners of a home game again. Another three goals, another step in the right direction or another false dawn? Who knows?
Our home form has remained solid if unspectacular and yet away from the confines of Carrow we have been less solid than a Trump press secretary’s crowd estimation. Why?
It’s hardly been our partisan crowd; on the back of a shocking run the man in the stand has been edgy, the nervousness is almost tangible. Swathes of people, myself included, that want or wanted the manager changed, plenty that believe they’ve already seen enough of Jez Moxey and even more that reckon they’ve seen far too much of Ed Balls.
Against Wolves it was as if the crowd were standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon after a bottle of whisky and half a dozen jazz cigarettes; you just hope they fall the “right” way. All that is before we even get to the question of ownership and the clamour for an injection of non-repayable cash from some kind-hearted foreign philanthropist or something. Carrow Road is currently not producing a particularly motivational atmosphere.
It can’t be lack of ability; we’ve demonstrated in some of our performances we’re a match for absolutely anybody in this division. So is it lack of application? Do we somehow only put our best foot forward when we haven’t had the luxury of a flight to the game or a long bus journey? Are the players not trying as hard for the away fans? There have been times you might question it; AMEX anyone? However, I’m loathed to go down a route where it’s suggested players aren’t putting it in physically, it’s evident they do.
Since Norwich started on the run of form that saw us tumble down the league table like a slinky on the stairs I’ve heard many people talk about our backbone, our spine, the stomach for the fight and that unquantifiable quality, bottle.
Could it be psychological? Is there a mental weakness?
I’m not privy to training sessions or close enough to the players to see the whites of their eyes before they take to the field but it’s not hard to imagine there might be some fragility present. When City were top of the league, many people stated we weren’t playing particularly convincingly but we were still winning. It’s not too big a stretch to think this might have formed a false impression that we were too good for the division, we were better than the teams we were playing against and that man for man we should only have to turn up to beat them? You’d hope that it wasn’t the case but there has to be an element of human nature involved too.
Since we somehow contrived to lose at Newcastle and then in similar late fashion to Leeds, elements of doubt have crept in and perhaps players performing below their best stopped getting away with it. The belief and attitude we were “too good” disappeared like Mike Tyson’s invincibility at the hands of Buster Douglas. Since then we’ve seen Klose dropped; without question our most able central defender but he was more Fred and Wilma’s Pebbles than City and Pep’s Stones at the time. We’ve had a period with McGovern in goal, Brady way below his best, niggly injuries you don’t “get” when you’re winning, and red mists you don’t get if you’re winning.
We’ve gone from Manager of the Month, high-school quarterback swagger to school disco wont-say-boo-to-a-goose wallflower overnight. Seeds of doubt, questions of their own abilities, the fans questioning everyone’s abilities and even dreaming up new inabilities.
There is still a nervousness. It’s contagious. The players sense it from the crowd, the crowd sense it from each other; every misplaced pass or poor touch results in the anxious silence being penetrated with over-exaggerated groans. This lifts the opposition; it’s like we’re using our own mental fragility against ourselves.
But then we score. The crowd feel relief and that feeds belief to the players. In the last two home games, it’s been noticeable the way the players have been visibly lifted as the game went on. Suddenly Wes is expressing himself again, Brady finds that extra gear he’s got, Jacob starts running at defenders and taking things on from distance. Howson is bursting through the midfield, the defenders start playing football rather than hot-potato.
But we are still fragile.
Concede a soft goal as we did against Wolves and the nail-biting is back, although the players responded admirably. A fortnight or so ago and we’d have gone on to lose that match I’m sure.
The belief is returning but we’re still some way off. Cameron Jerome is trying his heart out but has zero confidence in front of goal. Desperately unlucky with a long-range effort he hit instinctively, he’d struggle to put his shopping away if given a bit of time to think about it. It’s in his head. A crisis of confidence. He should have been all over Whittaker’s penalty against Southampton, but he’s not feeling it.
Like us. We’ve not been feeling it for weeks either.
But there appears to be some green shoots of recovery in the player’s confidence and self-belief. That needs to carry on game by game and we might just get back to that swagger; we might even deserve to have it this time.
By the same token; we need to address our fragilities too. Alex Neil is here to stay, the only thing that’s resigned is me to that fact. We’re heading towards the end of the window, after which point anyone that does come in would be stuck with Alex’s squad. So looks like we’re going to have to lump it and get behind the decision; anything else seems futile. We might as well focus our energies on trying to influence something we can change, the players belief and confidence, rather than something we can’t.