A case of then there were two - Pinto and McGovern show how tough Alex Neil found improvng his squad
PUBLISHED: 07:33 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 16:07 14 March 2017
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With the Championship's top six apparently riding off into the sunset, Norwich City supporters had begun to get used to the idea that we might be in for the rarest of seasons at Carrow Road; one that features nothing to play for from March onwards.
But the Canaries don’t do dull, as they illustrated yet again this weekend by sacking a manager less than 24 hours before a match.
Alex Neil had been under mounting pressure since that infamous run of eight defeats in 10 games around Christmas time. The Norwich City board stuck with him when most clubs wouldn’t have and that meant by the time his departure eventually did come, all of the obituaries about his spell in the yellow and green dugout had been written many times over.
Perhaps the best illustration of how the man regarded as one of the best young managers in Britain when he was being carried shoulder high around Wembley Stadium less than two years ago fell from grace came 25 minutes into Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Blackburn.
Once Mitchell Dijks had been sent for his early bath and Alex Pritchard subsequently withdrawn to help balance the team of 10 that remained on the pitch, Norwich City had just two Alex Neil signings on the field. They were goalkeeper Michael McGovern, appearing at home in a league game for the first time in four months, and Ivo Pinto.
Neil brought in 20 players during his time in charge – that only two were playing with less than half an hour of football gone since his departure shows how hard he found it to improve the squad he inherited.
There are some caveats to take into account here. Robbie Brady was sold for a tremendous profit while Nelson Oliveira, Youssouf Mulumbu, Matt Jarvis and Graham Dorrans are all injured. Whether they would have been certain starters if fit is a moot point. The subs bench for the Blackburn game included Steven Naismith, Yanic Wildschut and James Maddison. The first two are yet to fully justify transfer fees of around £7m, big money by this club’s standard, while Maddison is like Ben Godfrey and Ebou Adams in that he was signed for the future rather than to make an instant impact.
Neil’s first Norwich signing, Tony Andreu, is still officially with the club but hasn’t played a league game for City since March 17, 2015. Sergi Canos and Jake Kean have also been and gone while Timm Klose seems destined for departure unless the next City manager thinks he can get him through another season in The Championship. The two Neil signings I haven’t mentioned are Paul Jones, the current third choice goalkeeper, and striker Patrick Bamford who arrived on loan last January and returned to Chelsea without scoring a goal.
City’s recent record in the transfer market may not be entirely Alex Neil’s fault. None of us know quite how these deals are done and dusted, but the fact the club itself is about to tell us the results of a big restructuring is an admission that Friday’s sudden sacking is just the start of the big decisions that need to be made.
Recruitment in football is not an exact science and that goes for managers as well as players. Alex Neil was the 11th full-time manager at Norwich City in the 20 years since Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones became majority shareholders. Ten of those 11 have now been relieved of their duties, with most of those (Chris Hughton, Glenn Roeder, Bryan Hamilton for example) shown the door long after many supporters had been calling for it to happen. Paul Lambert is the only manager to have left the club of his own accord during that time to walk straight into another job.
I’m not sure which direction the Norwich City roller coaster is about to lurch in next but whatever happens, supporters are fast running out of patience over the amount of money that has been squandered in the transfer market and in paying off managers who are being kept on the shelf long after their sell-by date.
It’s been another full-on week in the soap opera that is Norwich City, but for those of us working at BBC Radio Norfolk it’s been more like an episode of Casualty.
Norwich’s FA Youth Cup winning captain Cameron McGeehan was good enough to join us for our coverage of the match at Bristol City last week.
He’s currently with Luton Town but hasn’t played since January because of a broken leg. His rehab seems to be going well but my heart sank when we arrived at Ashton Gate on Tuesday evening because the place had changed beyond all recognition since my previous visit to commentate on the Canaries in October 2010.
A brand spanking new stand had risen out of the ground from where the little shed-like commentary box we used to broadcast from was. Cameron is a talented player and now we had to work out how to get him and his crutches up to the top tier of the stand. If any Luton fans are reading this, don’t worry, there was a lift.
Just as there is as The Forum in Norwich and it was put to good use on Thursday night when another ex-City player, Simon Lappin, turned up to appear on our Scrimmage programme also on crutches. A ruptured Achilles while playing for York City was to blame this time.
These things come in threes and so it should not have been a surprise when I had to use the Carrow Road first aid box for the first time ever on Saturday. No crutches were needed and it wasn’t as dramatic as the injuries sustained by McGeehan or Lappin, but it turns out that banging your hand on a table in the press room can cause a cut to the thumb. It was only tiny but it was one of those that refused to stop bleeding.
So thanks to the two Red Cross guys who stopped by the front of the Barclay to give me a plaster before the game. I think I’ll be fit for Saturday.