Looks like Norwich City are up and running again
PUBLISHED: 08:53 10 December 2016
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Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong. Like many fans I genuinely felt that Alex Neil was no longer capable of getting the best from his squad but against Brentford, City looked like a completely different team.
While one game proves relatively little, it was great to wake up on Sunday morning without that sinking feeling in my stomach that has become a constant companion over the six weeks and I’ll be off to Oakwell this afternoon with considerably more enthusiasm than I mustered for the trip to Pride Park two weeks ago.
What was so impressive on Saturday was how much more quickly City moved the ball than in previous weeks and consequently gave the Brentford defence no time to get settled.
Inevitably there have been many observations about how poor the visitors were, but I’m a great believer in the principle that your opponents will be as good as you let them and City took the game to Brentford from the off and never dropped their intensity. Better teams would have found that assault hard to live with.
Having said that, and despite a welcome clean sheet to restore some of the damage to City’s goal difference, there were still some sloppy moments in and around the home penalty area which might have been punished by better players.
However, it’s the rediscovery of City’s attacking mojo that gives some real cause for optimism and much of that is down to the unpredictability of Alex Pritchard, who shredded the Brentford defence at will and was man of the match by some distance. His sublime reverse pass to set up Robbie Brady’s goal was worth the price of entry on its own.
I suspect the visitors may well have prepared for Wes Hoolahan and Cameron Jerome, but found themselves faced with a completely different set of problems in Pritchard and Nelson Oliveira.
Pritchard offers a different threat to Hoolahan simply because his supreme two-footedness means that a defender knows that he could be passed on either side with equal ease, whereas the better teams tend to force Hoolahan onto his right foot knowing that the likelihood is that he will have to turn in order to get back to his stronger side, so slowing attacking momentum.
Both have a huge part to play, but I’m not sure that the best will be obtained from either of them if they are shoehorned into the same starting line-up.
Oliveira’s natural inclination to show for a ball to his feet rather that peel off into the channels in the same way as the pacier Jerome gives greater compactness to City’s passing movements and he, like Pritchard, is equally comfortable on either foot.
What’s more, he is more of a striker than a target man and needs no second invitation to go for the net, as evidenced by two thunderous strikes and the clinical finish for his richly-deserved goal. Jerome has been excellent this season, but if Oliveira can continue this form then Neil will have two outstanding options up front.
However, it was the speed with which City moved the ball through the central areas that was the key to the performance and that was helped by the return of Jonny Howson whose energy has been so sorely missed in recent weeks, and perhaps also the absence of Alex Tettey whose lack of comfort on the ball tends to slow the development of City’s attacks. However, his primary role is as a destroyer and he too will be needed down the line.
Of course, the question now is whether City can build on that performance and the next week will tell us a lot about how the season is going to pan out.