Norwich in need of resuscitation

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Trevor Haylett on the decline which prompted John Deehan's resignation

The new year had just turned, Norwich City were jostling for a top-six place and John Deehan was coming to the end of his first year in charge. His predecessor, Mike Walker, had not long been dismissed at Everton after a disastrous 10 months. The irony was acute, the satisfaction, I assumed, of a job well done was sweet.

"Why do you think it has gone so well?" I ventured. The answer from Deehan was quick and to the point and revealed no trace of false modesty. "I think we have done all right and that's all," he said. "Nobody here is getting carried away."

How right Deehan was to counsel caution. Since that January day Norwich have won just once in the League on a spectacular freefall towards the dropping zone. The 10th and last defeat of 1995, at Newcastle on Saturday, precipitated the manager's own fall the following day.

Deehan having resigned, Gary Megson, his assistant, is now in charge, at least for the five remaining fixtures which will decide the club's fate. The first comes tomorrow against Nottingham Forest and after officially retiring at the end of last season, Megson, 35, is considering playing himself.

Deehan has gone on holiday with his wife and four children who have suffered with him as the pressures mounted. Bravely, he put all thoughts of pride and personal achievement behind him in the cause of saving his team and the offer of a Norwich coaching role lower down the ladder will be his "reward".

Deehan has been unlucky, losing experienced players through a lengthy and persistent injury list. All teams have injuries but operating on a small and inexperienced squad, Norwich feel the pinch more than most. Jeremy Goss, a tour de force in last season's memorable European campaign, has been dogged by injury and fitness all season; Ian Crook, creator-in- chief and the team's heartbeat, went missing just as the panic set in.

They have, however, also accumulated more bookings (66) than any other Premier League side and that has nothing to do with luck.

At the beginning of the season, with Deehan's defensive recruits, Jon Newsome and Carl Bradshaw, settling in well, Norwich dug out a string of important victories. Blackburn met their first League defeat at Carrow Road and as long as the Canaries could nick a goal or two at the other end, the spectre of relegation would stay on a long lead.

It encouraged complacency. For so long Norwich have played a shrewd game in the transfer market; selling for big bucks and buying on the cheap. In the main the new recruits have done well, increasing their values, but it is a high-risk strategy with a limited lifespan.

In Deehan's 15 months, five front players have been sold: Sutton, Fox, Ekoku, Robins and Power for close on £10m. In their place have come Adams (an occasional force), Ward (early goals and bags of promise but needs experience beside him) and Sheron (another long-term absentee and few goals to show when he has played).

Deehan thought he had agreed deals to bring in Darren Caskey, Don Hutchison and Bob Taylor. Nothing transpired. The club allowed Scott Howie to return to Scotland without acquiring a replacement goalkeeper, so when Bryan Gunn was seriously injured on 27 December there was no alternative but to throw 19-year-old Andy Marshall into the fray. Agile, brave and a superb shot-stopper, his inexperience has shown.

Robert Chase, the chairman, deserves great credit for transforming Carrow Road into one of the country's most attractive stadiums. A new training complex is a monument to progressive ideas. Facilities for the press and the disabled shame many bigger clubs. But the man in the street craves a successful team and recently the fans, never known for patience or loyalty, have turned on the manager and chairman.

It is vital for Norwich to stay in the Premiership. Grandiose plans for a stock market flotation are well advanced, another new stand is planned. Everything is geared to the 21st century while relegation would take the club back to the dim and distant past. With Ipswich already seemingly doomed, East Anglia is praying its other Premiership concern do not go west with them.