The Canaries festive period has been mixed to say the least. After the home defeat to Reading in November, Norwich seemed to have turned the corner, embarking on a four-game unbeaten streak scoring 14 goals as they destroyed Huddersfield and Millwall, and rescued an impressive point against Derby County.
However Cityís away fixture at Reading brought the same depressing result as before and their misery was compounded as over 1000 of the Yellow Army were forced to watch their team suffer an embarrassing FA Cup exit at League One Preston North End. Two days later, Neil Adams had resigned as manager. This left Mike Phelan, Alex Fergusonís former lieutenant, in temporary charge with 33-year old Hamilton Academical manager Alex Neil set to take over the reins.
Where did it all go wrong for Adams? After a good start saw Norwich top the table in September, recent results simply havenít been good enough and, in many cases, neither have the performances. Birmingham, Rotherham, Fulham, Leeds, Forest, Brighton, Reading; no, you canít win them all, but too many times this season Norwich have shipped points from winnable games. As a result the former Premier League side of three years lie three points adrift of the all-important top six.
Everybody knows that the current side has the quality to get back to the Premier League. Indeed, one triumph before a ball had been kicked in anger was retaining the services of their core Premier League squad, including Gary Hooper, Nathan Redmond, Martin Olsson, John Ruddy and Alex Tettey. However, having the good players is only half the story.
The 2010-11 team that earned promotion under Paul Lambert was not star-studded, but relied upon their resilience, guile, and desire to play for one another and their manager. Under Lambert, Norwich took two years to lose two league games in a row. If they lost, it was swiftly put right.
Contrast that to this season, where Norwich have lost both home and away to Reading. Adams appeared to have lost his way, and in particular the formula which proved so successful during Lambert’s tenure. Despite their technical deficiencies, Norwich succeeded because they had a manger who instilled them with a fighting spirit and desire to win, a captain in Grant Holt who led by example on the field and inspired belief to all inside Carrow Road, and a squad willing to fight for the shirt. The Championshipís top two, Bournemouth and Ipswich, are model clubs in that sense and perhaps from this the Norwich City board can learn a lesson.
January will be a huge month for the club as it looks to make up for lost time in getting back to the Premier League. The name Alex Neil has divided the Canary camp, with some fans citing his lack of experience in England’s top leagues. However the young, progressive Neil took Hamilton from Scottish Championship Play-Off winners to third in the Premiership as of last week and, with a success rate of 55% in two years, itís hard to argue with that record.
As he beds in, the Scot must be able to extract the best from his players and nurture that desire to play against the best. Furthermore, any arrivals and departures among the playing staff will also be important. The last thing the club needs are egotistical players whose priorities lie elsewhere. Wanting to play in the Premier League is of course a desirable attribute in any player, but they must also want to get there and play in that league for their manager and for Norwich City. Irrespective of the desire to play attractive, attacking football, only with the right mindset amongst the whole squad can Norwich stake a viable challenge to reclaim its place among the elite.