(Picture: Action Images)
By Adam Virgo
DEMOLISHED 5-0 by Brighton. Embarrassingly beaten 4-3 late on by Newcastle. Norwich are struggling and, for the first time, there is talk of manager Alex Neil coming under pressure.
Top of the Championship on October 15, the Canaries have failed to win a match since. They were awful at the Amex last weekend and are leaking goals for fun.
Promotion – and possibly the future of Neil himself – depends on whether they can tighten up at the back.
Nevertheless, it would be very dangerous and very naive for anybody to write off this group of players on the back of a few bad results. They’ve got a strong squad.
Michael McGovern, who I know from my Celtic days, had a brilliant European Championships with Northern Ireland and is a quality goalkeeper.
They’ve got an experienced captain in Russell Martin, while Wes Hoolahan is the best No.10 in the division, a hugely under-rated player who has produced consistently for the past ten years.
Cameron Jerome is a prolific Championship striker. And, when you can bring a player like Steven Naismith off the bench, there’s clearly plenty of depth, too.
Do I think they’ve got a better squad than Reading? Yes. Do I think they’ve got a better squad than Bristol City and Huddersfield? Yes. Newcastle will walk away with it. Brighton will push them hard. But, beyond that, there’s not much to frighten the Canaries.
Class always tells in the end. Brighton were unbeaten in the first 20 games last year. Then, over the Christmas period, they took three points out of 21. In the end they missed the top two only on goal difference.
Hull won only two of their ten games in February and March, but they still ended up winning promotion to the Premier League. That’s the Championship – peaks and troughs are inevitable.
The problem Neil has is the profile of his club. Norwich kept a lot of the players relegated from the Premier League last season. This summer, he went out and spent £8m on Alex Pritchard from Spurs. The expectation – internally and externally – is an immediate return to the top flight and that means bad results grab headlines.
If Huddersfield go through a blip or take a beating, they get a bit of leniency because they aren’t meant to be up there in the first place. The same is true of Bristol. At Norwich, people want to know why and how.
Sometimes, though, there is no explanation. As a player, I’ve been in dressing rooms where you’ve taken a hiding and it’s a complete mystery. You just can’t put your finger on why everyone played so badly. It doesn’t mean the manager has lost the players or anything sinister like that.
Yes, Norwich have conceded nine goals against the top two sides. The 4-3 defeat to Newcastle – having been 3-2 up in the 94th minute – was pretty humiliating.
Those results were brought to the forefront due to the manner of the defeats, but the fact is the majority of sides in this division will lose to Brighton and Newcastle.
Zero points is zero points, whatever the scoreline. They’ve also had the misfortune to run into two form sides in Preston and Leeds.
If Norwich can’t get out of this blip quickly then, yeah, they’ll be under massive pressure.
But, right now, they’re only four or five points off automatic promotion with a squad of players the envy of the division. Write them off at your peril.
*This article was originally featured in The FLP on Sunday 6th November.