Despite being top of the Sky Bet Championship coming into October, Norwich have had a somewhat extended blip throughout the month. Having recorded one win from their last six, including a crushing 4-0 defeat at Middlesbrough, Neil Adams’ side now find themselves outside the top six. The problems seem to be stemming from a lack of ruthlessness up front and, most importantly, shakiness at the back. With Norwich dropping down the table, questions are now beginning to arise about Adams’ managerial experience.
Despite a dry spell for Lewis Grabban, who has not scored since late September against Blackpool and missed a crucial penalty against Fulham, the most significant concern for many Norwich supporters continues to be the poor performance at the back and the inclusion of right-back Steven Whittaker in the side, with natural full-back Russell Martin partnering Michael Turner in the centre. In the summer, Adams brought in centre-backs Ignasi Miquel, Carlos Cuellar and loanee Jos Hooiveld, but only the latter has seen any league action so far.
Whittaker and Martin have both been singled out in recent weeks for their poor performances but it must be said that the whole defence was at sea in Norwichís defeat at Middlesbrough, with poor marking contributing to more or less all the goals. If Norwich are going to be serious challengers for automatic promotion, then Adams has to trust in the depth of his squad – the quality is there.
Martin is a right-back, plain and simple, but a good one. Hooiveld, with his Championship and Premier League experience, is a valuable asset that the manager should look to utilise more. Additionally, Ryan Bennett is due back from injury soon and Miquel looked bright in an U21s Development game where Norwich comfortably beat Spurs. Square pegs in round holes and all that.
The options are there, and although one can see the merits in playing the same back four throughout the season – league leaders Bournemouth have maintained consistency with their defence and it has paid off with eight straight wins – this approach is not working for the Canaries. One trap that Adams must not fall into, as Chris Hughton did, is that of eliminating competition for places by refusing to drop players who are clearly not performing.
Another predicament that has arisen, and one that is not restricted to the past month, is the way in which this side seems to take an almost passive approach to games. The passing tempo and the speed of build-up play has been awfully slow, which has no doubt affected Norwichís attacking potency. This is reflected in the fact that out of 16 league games, Norwich have gone behind first in nine of them.
A side that wants to get back to the Premier League at the first attempt cannot be giving opponents a head start in most games. The long-term absence of creative midfielder Wes Hoolahan will no doubt hinder the team in terms of attacking play, but they have at least welcomed back Jonny Howson after a prolonged spell on the sidelines.
What has baffled many supporters, however, is the decision to loan winger Elliot Bennett to Brighton. Here is a player with Premier League experience and great technical ability who seems to be below wide man Josh Murphy in the pecking order, despite the England U19 starlet often struggling against quality full-backs. Many cannot help but feel that Bennettís ability would be welcome in the side right now.
As the gap between Norwich and the top spot gradually widens, the pressure on Adams and his backroom staff to uncover why Norwich have scored only four goals in their last seven – when they plundered 20 from their first nine games – increases. If these problems are not resolved, and Norwich continue to drop points against the ëlesserí sides in the League, then hopes of a quick return to the Premier League will begin to fade and the Yellow Army could begin to turn on Neil Adams.
Another loss on Saturday against Nottingham Forest winless in nine games would only ramp up the pressure another notch.