Six things we learned from Norwich City’s victory over Cardiff at Carrow Road
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
They did it their way… Michael Bailey reflects on a very welcome three points for Norwich City over Cardiff with six key lessons …
1 – City have real first-goal magic
Lengthy runs of scoring goals, winning games, going unbeaten – however they come, they usually indicate success.
A couple have fallen away in recent weeks, such as the unbeaten Championship away record under Alex Neil blown out of the water by that 3-0 defeat at Birmingham.
The overall record was coincidentally lost to a 3-0 defeat at Southampton.
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And City were yet to concede at goal at Carrow Road in the league – until the last four minutes of Saturday's win. At least they remain unbeaten at home so far.
But the interesting one for me is actually a stat I had forgotten about – City's run of games when they score first.
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By my records, Saturday was the 74th league and cup game since Alex Neil took charge, and the 36th in which City have scored the first goal.
And City have yet to lose – 29 have ended up as wins, some more easily than others. The remaining seven came in as draws.
City do appear to be starting a little slowly at the moment – even if they are usually still getting their noses in front. That second part is crucial.
2 – The Murphys are delivering
A lot of people doubted it would ever happen. Having been at City since they were knee-high to a first-team winger, it was Jacob and Josh Murphy's collective dream to turn out for City.
They won the FA Youth Cup along the way of course. Josh even played a few games in the Championship last time, and the Premier League before that – he did pretty well too, until Chris Hughton decided to ditch youth for the experience of Jonas Gutierrez. But this season was almost billed as the last chance for the duo to really break through – and they have delivered as best they could so far. The peak was definitely Saturday too – with Jacob's two assists before making way for Josh, who scored a wonderful goal that ultimately won all three points.
The greater satisfaction arguably came with Josh, as he shook off those early-season wobbles.
Both will lose form at some point. But their quality is permanent.
The next step is no doubt the pair starting a game together – something that certainly feels possible.
Both brothers are out of contract in the summer. One to rectify, me thinks.
3 – Don't be misled over Cam or Russ
I write this as someone who has been desperate to see competition for Cameron Jerome, to ensure he is pushed to deliver the goals he can.
It remains to be seen if Kyle Lafferty can genuinely offer some of that until January but when fit, that should certainly be Nelson Oliveira's role.
Yet, Jerome is really doing a great job at the moment. He's running the channels hard, harrying defenders and taking the first chance that's coming his way. In fact, by my records Cam is now on 27 goals in 85 City appearances – pretty much a goal every three games. That's excellent – especially if he keeps up his current work.
Hopefully his toughest critics can also see what he's doing for the team at the moment – which should go for Russell Martin too.
For 78 minutes at left-back on his league return, that was some effort from the skipper. Having his character on the pitch made a difference too.
Some won't be able to look past their prejudices of course. But both Jerome and Martin are key men at present.
4 – Howson is all right – if he gets help
It's been a steady start from Jonny Howson this season, winning the game against Bristol City yet not really imposing himself as much as we know he can.
There has also been the return of Jonny on the right side of midfield – something I've never really liked. But ultimately, there was a window on Saturday into why it can work.
In the second half, Ivo Pinto had far more success pushing down the right flank from full-back. From the way Alex Neil wants his sides to work, it's always been clear how much he invests in his two full-backs influencing the game – especially, offering the primary source of width. With City on top, Pinto could push on more often – and Howson was tucked inside and relatively high up the pitch. That created opportunities and ensured Jonny's involvement was closer to where it should be: more central, 30-yards or less from goal.
Other factors helped it happen – such as Cardiff chasing the game and City being much better with the ball after the break.
But in that way, there's no issue starting steady if City can get ahead and turn it into opening up.
5 – There is still a dubious goals panel
The one thing you realise about the Championship after arriving from the Premier League is there's something a little Wild West about it all.
Take Oliver Langford's refereeing performance. In short he was inconsistent and at times, illogical. Yet because he's in the EFL, he'll get away with a word from an assessor – which could be a positive one for all we know – and off he carries on as was.
Referees have had little impact on City's season so far – but at some point they will, and the galling bit will be a complete lack of accountability through replays and a thorough lack of wider interest.
Who scored City's second goal on Saturday is hardly a major bone of contention, but it does seem odd that without a major fantasy league for the Championship, there will probably be little clamour to clarify whether Russell Martin or Jonny Howson can add it to their tally (rest assured, I'll try to get an answer – and for me, it should be Jonny's).
Apparently Langford can ask for it to be checked by the dubious goals panel – yes, it still exists!
But then, they will probably have only one camera angle to look at.
6 – Alex Neil will play the squad game
Alex Neil explained it was selection and squad size that meant Steven Naismith went from starting every league game before Saturday, to not even being on the bench against Cardiff.
But when you break it down, Neil's desire for more width and the return to fitness of Alex Pritchard means it's hard to argue with his logic – even if it's still surprising.
What happens for Tuesday's Wigan visit will be interesting in response.
It will be a different game plan – but at least no one can accuse the manager of blinding sticking to favourites.
Olsson, Naismith, Oliveira, Jarvis, Canos, Turner, Morris, Thompson, Whittaker – all players who for one reason or another were not in the 18 on Saturday. It says plenty about the squad at Alex Neil's disposal.
Maybe Anthony Pilkington would fancy a return? He can still find the goal – albeit from close range. As for Cardiff skipper Sean Morrison, City's next centre-back recruitment mission should start and end there.
No doubt the January planning is already under way. After all, the last window was great fun…
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @mbjourno and Facebook @mbjourno