Six things we learned from Norwich City’s latest Carrow Road rumble
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City ticked off another home win on their return to the Championship, this time against Rotherham United – prompting Michael Bailey to bring you his six learnings from the weekend's action…
1 – Welcome to the party, Alex
After a summer transfer window that seemed to get most people's backs up, it's biggest outlay was in danger of being forgotten.
City shelling out what could eventually approach £9m would make Alex Pritchard the club's most expensive signing – yet there has been limited fanfare and even less chance so far to take in what the Tottenham playmaker could bring to the Canaries' cause.
And all of a sudden, we saw it all play out before us at Carrow Road on Saturday – and it was so good to watch. The sight of Pritchard and Wes Hoolahan gelling was great – but there will be limited opportunities for Alex Neil to feel comfortable setting his City side up like that from the off.
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What was most impressive was judging Alex on his own merits.
The 23-year-old's vision and execution of passing was excellent all afternoon. Wes is better playing under pressure but if Pritchard is given room, he can arguably create more chances – and has a knack for getting them himself too.
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Even in his current form, you feel City now have someone to fill the void if Wes needs a break.
2 – Start as you mean to go on
We are now a dozen games into the new season and while the table may not have completely taken shape according to some in the game – they like to wait until Christmas, if not May – I think it's safe to say whether a club has had a good start or not.
So what of Norwich, following their victory over Rotherham?
Well, 26 points from their opening 12 games means this is now officially City's best start to a league season in 20 years – that was the 1996-97 season when 27 points underlined the promise of Mike Walker's return to the Canaries' dugout.
Yes, it's true City didn't go up that season – or indeed for another seven years. So hopefully that will keep everyone's feet on the ground.
Fortunately the circumstances and context of the Championship alongside the stability – in Alex Neil's words, stabilitisation – at City means Norwich should be more able to turn such a good start into promotion.
Saturday was also the first time City have won five consecutive home league games since late 2012 in the Premier League. Fortress Carrow Road indeed.
3 – There's magic in his boots
This one isn't so much a lesson, as revision of something worth remembering every time you watch City at the moment.
Wes Hoolahan is now 34, contracted to City until at least the summer of 2018 – by which time, the Canaries' world could be in full testimonial mode.
Ahead of that, the little Irishman could have reached a couple of landmarks by as soon as the end of this month.
My records say Rotherham represented Hoolahan's 296th appearance in a yellow shirt, as well as goal number 47 of his City career.
But perhaps even more remarkable was the fact Wes' post-match interview in the mixed zone – a rarity that would feature someway down the list of things Hoolahan likes doing on the day of a game – lasted more than eight minutes, and he might even have almost enjoyed it.
It's such a privilege to watch Wes in action at the moment. He doesn't seem to get lost down as many blind allies as he used to, he makes City tick and continues to get better with age.
4 – The power of three is an issue
No matter who the opposition, there is a weakness in City's game – and it's not as straightforward as describing the bit where Norwich switch off.
That said, you do wonder if some of that comes from things being a little too easy for the Canaries at times – hence the dips in concentration.
But back to the point. It seems three is the magic number when it comes to causing City issues.
Rotherham did it as they chased the game from 2-0 down – and within four minutes of Dexter Blackstock arriving on the pitch and Alan Stubbs switching things up, City could enjoy their customary wobble. Going with three attackers has a tendency to pin City's full-backs into more defensive roles – which in turn makes them narrow.
More pressingly, if a full-back gets caught a little too high up the pitch, City's centre-backs can be overloaded and the midfield may not cover the gaps – which was exactly what happened on Saturday. So to blame the centre-backs for the lack of a clean sheet at the weekend would be wrong.
It all underlines Alex Neil's challenge of managing a game as it plays out in front of him.
5 – Stubbs was right over broken records
So said the Rotherham boss before Saturday's game: 'I'm always a believer that records are there to be broken and one day, whenever that is, they will be. There is no reason why it can't be Saturday.'
The problem is you can't always pick the record you want to break.
The Millers hadn't won at Carrow Road since 1966 – but that one has stayed intact.
Rotherham played Norwich without a single point from their five previous road trips this season – and that hasn't changed either, although they did at least score their fourth goal away from home.
But Stubbs was proved right in the end, with a little bit of Millers history.
The Millers had not lost all six opening away fixtures since changing their name to Rotherham United in 1925, following a merger between Rotherham Town and Rotherham County.
Yes, this is now the worst start to a road campaign in the club's history.
Records are indeed there to be broken. And it must be said, Rotherham will have to show a lot more energy and quality if this isn't to all end in relegation.
6 – Cream rises to the top – but how long?
There was a delay as we waited to see how Sunday would treat Huddersfield – not well, as it turned out. There will be a similar delay in midweek given the Terriers feature in one of only two games taking place on Wednesday.
But we can now say for the first time this season that Norwich City and Newcastle United make up the Championship's automatic promotion places.
Now there's nothing easier than counting your chickens and planning for a banquet. Once the weather really turns and the pitches rut, the Championship slog will get a lot tougher.
But at the same time and with the resources at the disposal of two sides playing Premier League football this time last year, plus their respectively settled managerial situations, you do wonder how long the pair will now stay in the top two if they continue to really click.
In fact, both clubs could benefit from the situation – they may actually find they drive each other on. Maybe sustaining a better record than the Magpies could even end City's Craven Cottage hoodoo – after all as Alan says, records are there to be broken.