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Paddy Davitt verdict: The curious case of Norwich City’s upturn

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:53 20 March 2017

Steven Naismith leads the charge against Barnsley. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Steven Naismith leads the charge against Barnsley. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

©Focus Images Limited www.focus-images.co.uk +447814 482222

These are strange times at Norwich City. Less than a week after Alex Neil’s demise appeared to signal the final chapter in a Championship crusade to forget there is hope and optimism.

Jacob Murphy fires in his 10th City goal of the season against Barnsley. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdJacob Murphy fires in his 10th City goal of the season against Barnsley. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Granted, Norwich were fortunate to encounter a Barnsley who lacked the punch to match the panache of their energetic, cohesive offerings in open play. Then there was a rather bizarre sequence of results for a series of clubs orbiting the same part of the table, just behind ailing Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls have nose-dived since hammering Norwich at Hillsborough; a result which triggered the beginning of the end for Neil.

For the reassuringly composed Alan Irvine to have guided this crop of under-performing players to within five points of the play-offs, entering the international break, is an upturn few could have foreseen.

Respite may be brief, normal service resumed on the road at a resurgent Aston Villa, but after the prolonged turbulence on and off the pitch this is a spell to savour.

Norwich’s revival merely serves to underline the scale of what appears still a missed opportunity to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt. For all the failings, for all the lack of clarity and individual culpability, City remain alive in the promotion race. The pulse may be weak but with games on the horizon against the likes of Fulham and Preston all is not lost.

Nelson Oliveira made a welcome return from a broken foot injury. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdNelson Oliveira made a welcome return from a broken foot injury. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Whether Norwich succeed or not will hardly disguise the undercurrent of frustration. Norwich’s board have sought to address such negativity with Neil’s dismissal and a bold vision for the future. Much clearly hinges on who they unveil as the de facto football head, in a sporting director role. The logic is sound, the reasoning obvious due to its widespread adoption in various guises across English football. But it is not the job title or the brief on which City’s experiment must be judged; it is tangible results. And in that regard change was inevitable after a prolonged decline one can chart from around the time Gary O’Neil recklessly slid off his feet at Stoke City in January 2016. Bar the odd gloriously uplifting episode since, Norwich’s approach appeared increasingly out of sync, tired and dated.

Nowhere was that more apparent than a chastening trip to Oakwell in the deepest part of that pre-festive rut. Neil’s former charges were dismantled in a ferocious first half of honest endeavour and a dash of quality. The angry response from the travelling support at half-time would swiftly become a soundtrack heard again at home to Huddersfield or away to Reading, Rotherham, Burton and so on.

It was the starkest example Neil’s template was flawed and his players residually vulnerable to a brand of football they struggle to combat. City’s second half surge proved in vain and those images of a dejected Neil at the final whistle proved prophetic.

Some in these parts might harbour a sense of embarrassment at the manner a club with the relatively meagre resources of Barnsley were able to sink Norwich. There was very little discernible difference between the sides again at Carrow Road, apart from City’s greater edge in the key moments. The Tykes’ astute head coach, Paul Heckingbottom, has extracted the maximum from his troops since promotion from League One, and the Reds’ rise is all the more remarkable for selling a core of key men in January, including free-scoring captain Conor Hourihane.

But Barnsley’s success should be a cause for optimism. If Norwich can find the key personnel to match the new model then conditions are still fertile. Few would be foolish enough to underestimate the size of the task to get back to the top table. But it can be done.

The scale and loyalty of City’s fanbase is the envy of most in the second tier. The squad, despite the inevitable summer churn, has enough talent and youthful energy to compete at the top end. Shedding those out of contract on lucrative terms not only improves the financial situation but is the clearest signal yet a sense of renewal can take hold this summer.

But it is the identity of those tasked with the overhaul that will dictate the future direction of travel. The stated aim is to have both a sporting director and head coach installed by the time the guns fall silent on the pitch. If Irvine and those under his command can muster a seam of consistency that might just extend beyond QPR’s final day visit on May 7. Strange times indeed.

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16 comments

  • Stop moaning.. Irvine is as good a caretaker as we could wish to have right now.. his sense of calm seems to be having the right effect. Already players like McGovern, Tettey and Pritchard seems more focussed.. if we had beaten sheff wed then playoffs would still be in our own hands now.. of course we can beat villa, fulham and huddersfield.. believe

    Report this comment

    jops

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

  • If this is an upturn Paddy , heaven help us when we have ( another ) downturn. 4 points from 2 HOME games may have given us faint hope , more to do with others failing than a dramatic upturn I suggest . The defence is still a shambles , some players are still going through the motions & although the bench appears somewhat calmer & professional than under AN , the team selection, substitutions & tactics are still those that have failed us for the past 18 months. Perhaps your upturn headline should be kept for when we see a TEAM on the pitch that can defend as a unit , a midfield with endeavour & vision & an attack that can score goals against better defences than Brentford . Looking threatening ( or even scoring !) at corners would be a bonus.

    Report this comment

    Victor Bullimore

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • I remember Mattias333; an enthusiastic and pleasant contributor. Could it be....

    Report this comment

    Mad Brewer

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Away form and lack of confidence in the team must be what got Alex Neil the Sack. Home form has been fine in 2017 so this is not an upturn. We could have had 2 more points if Alex Neil had still been in place. I was backing our board until they made the ridiculous decision to sack someone the night before a home game. Now i'm concerned about them not having really thought things through. We now need a real leader in place before we go to Villa. Someone that can give us the same effect Alex Neil had when he first arrived. That is realistically our only chance of going up. People who say we need to sit in the Championship for another year to sort out the squad are wrong, the longer we stay in it the harder it will be to get out again. Its about playing well as a team, having confidence and seeing through games for 90 mins with 100% commitment. If we get the right man in place pronto we can have the upturn and bounce up we need. This season may not be the complete disaster everyone has been saying it is. I want the board to make a good decision and appoint a first team coach sooner rather than later. I'm not confident in Alan Irvine ability. I remain optimistic though that we can still go up. Just.

    Report this comment

    Edinburgh Canary

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • See my comment to you under, Norwich City unlikely to make double signing over international break, article matt 31

    Report this comment

    lbt

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Getting a bit to excited to early Paddy, a couple of average results against a couple of average teams..,I agree to be 5 points of is better than 8, but it is more down to failings of the dross in this league, ourselves included.

    Report this comment

    TERRY LYON

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • By creating a a new management framework as announced, we have immediately precluded a number of potential candidates for the 'Managers' job (which it will still be) who would never work under the constraints the system creates. Most decent managers want 100% control and say so that they can then live and die by their results.

    Report this comment

    Raisedeyebrows

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Upturn ? Getting ahead of ourselves again. First half against Barnsley was mind numbingly boring.

    Report this comment

    Raisedeyebrows

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • I am usually upbeat and positive on here, but, for those getting excited again, our record against top clubs so far has been poor, and we have Leeds, Huddersfield, Brighton, Preston, Fulham and Reading to go... all above us in the league, so I think finishing top 12 this season will be about right... hopefully the new brush sweeps clean and next season we can have consistency, defence, goals and wins :)

    Report this comment

    Claus Capes

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Totally agree with your comments Malaga as usual. The last two games should have been a banker 6 points but we still dropped two against Blackburn although the stupid sending off certainly did not help. Trying to find the perfect person for either the sporting director or the head coach is never going to be easy but that does not mean we should leave it too long before spinning the dice. I suspect Woy was offered the first post but turned it down, hopefully however, he will be willing to advise the board as to whom would be a good punt at the job. It seems to me that out board are too part time, hence the fiasco over the sacking, surely they should have held an emergency meeting straight after the Sheffield embarrassment on the following Sunday. Likewise, right now they should meet as often as possible to get both posts filled asap. Taking your time and searching the world will make no difference in the big scheme of things.

    Report this comment

    TrevorKeith

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • What upturn? We always beat Barnsley, except when The Mekon was in charge. After young Paddy's brief ascension he's descended to whence he came. Obeying orders? Is Boycie P stalking the corridors of cower?

    Report this comment

    Mad Brewer

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Given our fragility on the road, it's hard to see us claiming 6th spot BUT after 45+ years supporting the Canaries, you should know never to take anything for granted - good or bad. Off to the Reading game with my boys and pleasantly surprised to get tickets for the 3 of us for only 30 quid. Bring it on....

    Report this comment

    DJ_FRAMBOISE

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • If this is your way of trying to sell Irvine to the supporters the answer is NO. Playing two rubbish teams at home with the pressure off is no audition for the big job. Even Gunn beat Barnsley. Normal service will resume as soon as we play away from home. This team and particularly the defence are not fit for purpose and would be a laughing stock in the Premier League. Our run in is way too difficult for this lot to cope with.

    Report this comment

    suffolkcanary

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • The idea of a sporting director along with a head coach has all the hallmarks of sense; splitting a manager's role which has become too much for one person. However it will only work with the right recruitment. No disrespect to anyone at the club who may be fancied for either role. But this is the time to bring in new talent, with new ideas and who can revitalise the club. Same goes for the squad. We simply have to lose the old guard, the under-performers and those who simply are not up to the task. It is time for a change of personnel and along with it a change in mentality.

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    malaga flier

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Hardly an upturn just a narrowing of the gap thanks to others in the race for sixth place matching our inconsistency. Next we are back on the road and combined with some tough fixtures expect Paddy to write about a downturn in the coming weeks

    Report this comment

    Linc's too

    Monday, March 20, 2017

  • Blimey, we've only won 1 game and drawn 1...calm down Paddy. We did win some games with Neil too and beating Barnsley at home is to be expected really - or is this how far we have fallen?

    Report this comment

    Palmo

    Monday, March 20, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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