Downing tools, voting out and the latest popularity contest - six things we learned from Norwich City's latest Championship defeat as they lose out at Derby
PUBLISHED: 23:58 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 08:05 29 November 2016
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It was a better display, but the same old result. Michael Bailey picks six bones out of the latest Canaries carcass
1 – Brad’s more popular than his exes
About 2,000 Norwich City fans made the trip to Derby on Saturday to watch their team – yet arguably the one man who got their adoration for the afternoon was in a white shirt with Just Eat on it.
Players who are sold when they want to stay – especially ones with the heart and desire of Bradley Johnson – rarely get anything other than the warm reception City’s 2015 player of the season received at the weekend.
There were times on Saturday when all four stands – including the yellow and green corner – sung Johnson’s name.
Contrast that to the boos Russell Martin received – and seemingly him alone – for going over to acknowledge the City support. Whatever your view on things, that felt harsh based on Saturday’s game.
Johnson’s story does ram home a recurring theme this season. We’ve had Chris Martin and Anthony Pilkington among others show they’re able to make life difficult for a club that thought they were too good for them.
Derby had four players in their 18 with City connections. Still, at least Darren Bent didn’t mark his 400th club start and his boos with a goal.
2 – At least they’ve recovered the tools
When you see your side suffer defeat, you can come away from a game angry, annoyed, frustrated or bemused
Obviously if you see something more successful, you’d like to think you would experience a more positive emotion – although you wonder how many of City’s eight victories this term supporters have genuinely enjoyed.
Saturday’s abiding emotion on departure wasn’t positive, of course. The issue was trying to get a handle on what it actually was. With almost comical irony, the answer is probably resignation.
Still, rather than accusations of the players downing tools, what we got for the first half at Derby was something closer to where City should be – and indeed, have been.
Their purpose on the break and use of the ball was better than anything we’ve seen since the first half at Craven Cottage. That’s positive.
All they need now is to improve the rest: doing it for longer than 30 minutes, not dropping their intensity and especially defensive concentration, adding cutting edge and creating more chances.
So not too much more work to go then.
3 – Youssouf brought some bite
It could be that Derby’s 4-3-3 preference helped City out on Saturday. The Canaries’ extra man in midfield certainly provided them with a platform in the early exchanges – one led by two holding midfielders in Youssouf Mulumbu and to a lesser degree, Alex Tettey.
Now, the midfield dynamic was always going to be different with Graham Dorrans’ one-game suspension.
Yet it was almost a shock to see City in such combative mode through their two holders – something we haven’t seen enough of in recent weeks.
Certainly the home supporters’ protestations were good to hear.
Mulumbu’s lack of game-time and recent injury were exactly why his influence faded, while Tettey’s second-half hip injury may mean a repeat line-up isn’t going to happen any time soon. And there is the manager’s open desire to include the possession pluses he feels Dorrans brings to the party.
But it was the increased bite – if fleeting – that Alex Neil really needs to tap into from here.
4 – Belief and delusion do battle
A lot has been said recently about mental strength and belief. If you have neither buried deep inside, you’ll never succeed.
Coaches and psychologists get involved to help ensure the mental tools are as strong as possible.
Every City player will tell you this current run is temporary; in a few weeks it will turn round. The manager will tell you he can sort it out. And the board will tell you they have the utmost faith Alex Neil is the best man for the current job. He’s done it before, and can do it again. Everyone has entrenched belief. They are convinced. Maybe they feel they have to be. But at what point does such dogmatic belief become detached from the reality of the situation – and therefore delusion?
No one inside the City camp last season would have felt relegation was really going to happen until the club reached the very brink – and for many, it would have been later.
From injuries to fitness to form to penalty shouts to Simon Hooper – there were a lot of reasons given for Saturday’s loss.
The longer City’s plummet goes on, the more the reasons become excuses, and the more the belief becomes delusion.
5 – McClaren is rescuing the Rams
Alex Neil said before Saturday’s game that Steve McClaren’s reappointment as Derby manager proves why you shouldn’t chop and change so quickly.
After all, and as City have since found, the Rams are definitely back in the promotion picture.
That’s far too simplistic given everything that happened in between McClaren’s two spells at Derby – and forgetting the capitulation his side suffered while Neil was first getting City firing.
But after a horrendous start, McClaren is leading a side with the kind of defensive record City can appear to only dream of.
The two clubs will do battle again pretty quickly – the second day of 2017 at Carrow Road, to be precise.
Who knows where they will be come then but given the quality at his disposal, the Rams should be able to turn their current improvement into a sustained challenge for the play-offs.
It may even be that the ‘break’ is what has enhanced McClaren’s position. The idea managers need lengthy tenures to run a club are being seriously questioned – and a look across the leagues shows there are other ways of doing things.
6 – Delia will get her Carrow Road vote
We’ve just had Norwich City’s AGM week – which in turn always reminds me of Glenn Roeder’s derision directed at a City fan that hadn’t managed England. I was there for that quote, that moment, and I’ll never forget it.
It may be Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones’ article in The Times earns equal status – and it’s already been mentioned in a previous Six Things.
But away from the more keenly recorded parts was Delia’s suggestion she’d love to take a vote on a manager’s future with a show of hands at Carrow Road. Well, that very opportunity might arise this coming weekend. After such a damaging run – City’s worst run of defeats in the Football League since December 2000 – it would be foolhardy to ignore the potential scenarios that await in a few days time.
City could build on their mild improvement and smash Brentford out of sight. Maybe we’ll get something more nervous and inconclusive.
Or we head into the kind of acrimony that saw Burnley boss Steve Cotterill put an arm round Nigel Worthington.
What we know is there will be no hiding place.