Lower League
October 22, 2016

Will Norwich’s faith in Alex Neil pay off?


Get ready for some sexy facts football nerds.

It seems these days that clubs change managers as often as I change my pants. As of Friday 21st October the average manager in the Football League had been with their club for 1 year and 210 days (I change my pants more often than every 1 year and 210 days). Just let that sink in. On average, managers in the EFL last just 1 year and 210 days before they get the boot, jump ship or leave the club for whatever other reason (based on current average time in job). They, their clubs and the players are being expected to achieve an awful lot and in such a pathetically short space of time and, frankly, it’s not fair.

Eight managers across the EFL are new this month (Oct 2016). 44 have been in their jobs less than a year. Exeter’s Paul Tisdale is brining that average hugely up as well, contributing 10 years and 166 days to it. Remove him, and it drops by nearly 10%. One particular – and in many ways understandable – trend is for clubs and managers to part ways following relegation. Of the 15 teams relegated from the Premier League in the last 5 years, 11 managers left their jobs during or straight after the relegation season (including two at Fulham in the 2013/14 season), while 4 more stayed and failed to see out the following Championship campaign.

One club is bucking the trend, however: the mighty East Anglians Norwich City.

The Canaries’ boss Alex Neil, former Hamilton Academical defender, currently stands at 1 year and 151 days in the job since his appointment in January 2015. At the time, Norwich sat a place outside the Championship playoffs but, under his leadership, finished 3rd.

While they missed out excruciatingly on automatic promotion, just one win away from usurping Watford into second, they conquered all in the playoffs to gain promotion, including East Anglian rivals Ipswich. The following season didn’t go to plan, with Alex Neil’s inexperience, among other things, leaving them a little short of the quality needed to remain with the big boys and they were sent back down to the Championship.

Every cloud though. The club stuck with him, and what he didn’t know before, he will have a much better idea of now and, if Norwich can return to the top tier at the first attempt, he’ll be infinitely wiser for his time in the big league. Norwich were by no means a complete mess last time they tussled with the country’s best. Victory at Old Trafford, a point at Anfield and home draws to Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City showed they can dance with the finest. Two points in ten games across January and March, however, exposed their naivety and lack of quality. Five of those games were against top eight teams and Chelsea, but the other five could be considered rivals at the bottom end of the table, and when they return to the top flight they’ll do well to win a couple more of those sort of games.

5 points from safety was a fairly close run thing, and two more victories would have remedied their relegation. Oh, and I say when they return to the Premier League, because I genuinely think they will.

Norwich have stuck with Alex Neil and it’s paying off. Tussling for the league lead with Newcastle at present, Norwich have looked a class act going forward this season. 26 goals, only bettered by The Magpies, proves some real strength in attack. Of the 22 teams below them at present, only 3 have even hit the 20 mark. So far they’re averaging 2 goals a game – keep that up and they’ll have stuck 92 in the onion bag come May. Over the last three seasons, teams that have finished in the top two have averaged 1.73, with only Bournemouth (2.13) in 2014/15 bettering Norwich’s current average.

Norwich are strong going forward, great to watch and Neil has got them ticking brilliantly. This is what comes from having a manager spend a couple of seasons with a club – he has time to build a ‘team’, then they tick, they gel, and they score. If they want to win the title though, that defence will have to shore up. 18 goals conceded is the joint worst in the top 10 with QPR (9th) and Reading (10th). One clean sheet in ten isn’t the right kind of form either.

In the last three seasons, the top two teams in The Championship conceded, on average, 0.74 goals per game across an entire season. The worst record for that was Watford averaging 1.08 in 2014/15. Norwich currently average 1.38 goals per game. Over the same period, teams achieving automatic promotion have had a clean sheet in 40.5% of their season’s games, with Watford again bringing in the worst score of 32%.

Norwich’s average? 23%. That could peg them back massively, and they really need to get their defence together to get the promotion they’re very much aiming for and, going one further, to give themselves a chance of staying up next season in the Premier League. Alex Neil believes this could be to do with their concentration. He claims they didn’t defend well enough and failed to absorb the pressure in the 2-2 at Fulham (12th) this week – a game in which they led 2-0 at half time.

If so, this is a problem managers like to have. If they haven’t got the skill of defending, they never will. But if concentration is the problem, there’s no one on Earth who can’t concentrate a bit harder on something. This is a fixable problem, which is why I think they’ll get much better.

Alex Neil proved he can make his team hard to beat at times in the Premier League, and he can certainly do it in the Championship. The attack has strung a lovely understanding which is a handy by-product of giving a manager some proper time to build a team.

I think this will come in their defence too, truth be told – the more time Neil is given with them, the more they will all gel and the better they’ll become. They will improve their average goal leakage and clean sheet percentage. They will.

Massive credit to the owners of Norwich. I really admire that they’ve stuck with their man through the bad times as a thanks for him bringing some good times, and in good faith that’ll he’ll provide some more.


About this author

Jack Watson

I'm an aspiring sports writer with a genuine, deep-rooted love for anything that involves balls. For more of my work, or to keep up to date on the EFL 2016/17, follow me on twitter @journojackattack