Bright sparks should offer enough hope to excite the Canaries faithful ahead of Carrow Road return
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It may have ended in a draw but there were enough positives from Norwich City's 2-2 draw at Birmingham to send the impressive Canaries contingent home with smiles on their faces and hope for the season ahead.
Onel Hernandez was the key man in the thick of the drama, moving centre stage by showing more than 2,300 travelling City fans how hard he's been working – on and off the pitch.
The trickery, pace and sharp finish of the Cuban's first goal were bettered only by the cool, precise finish for his second equaliser of the day. When the winger pulled off his yellow jersey to show a toned torso amid his excited celebrations of the first he left his supporters behind that goal in no doubt he is in tip-top shape for the campaign.
Thankfully, he also remembered not to take his top off when he scored again deep into injury time – so busted out a somersault instead. It was a memorable opening day for an exciting player whose confidence is clearly now going to be sky high.
It could all have been so much sweeter had Jordan Rhodes come to the party as well though.
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City's loan striker was denied by a spectacular stop from Blues keeper Connal Trueman early on, having made powerful contact with his head to reach a fine Ben Marshall cross from the right.
Rhodes offered a focal point and kept both the home centre-backs busy but his afternoon hinged on missing a golden opportunity to open his Canaries account.
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After a first half in which both sides shook off some pre-season rust, Daniel Farke's team did their best to dictate the tempo amid heat of around 25C and bright sunshine, which required a drinks break. However the hosts upped the tempo after the break and forced the opening goal after Alex Tettey had denied Jota and Tim Krul had saved from Che Adams.
The Canaries' new number one punched the resulting corner clear but no-one prevented Jacques Maghoma firing at goal, seeing his first effort come back to him before lashing a rocket in off the underside of the bar.
Farke responded quickly, hooking the again unconvincing James Husband – missing a chance to impress in the absence of Jamal Lewis – and Tom Trybull, throwing Moritz Leitner and Kenny McLean on and switching to a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Leitner immediately moved centre stage and started to pull the strings in midfield, with his good work seeing Tettey blast a ball across goal which Rhodes couldn't quite reach to poke goalwards.
It was his sublime cross from the left which left you wondering if it wasn't to be City's day though, as Rhodes' weak header went straight at Trueman from point-blank range. Fortunately however, Hernandez was ruthless.
Had Rhodes fired as well, City would surely have been starting the new campaign with a win.
Would Nelson Oliveira have even been near the six-yard box to receive the cross? Unlikely.
Rhodes had shaken off an ankle injury and managed to complete the full 90 minutes. Likewise Alex Tettey overcame chickenpox to play the whole game, despite just 45 minutes in pre-season. Krul had only signed 10 days earlier and new skipper Grant Hanley also saw his preparations hampered.
All four of those key players have now had a chance to shake out the cobwebs. If Lewis can regain fitness and form quickly to shore up that worrying left-back situation then there is clear potential in this Canaries side.
Leitner provided an early glimpse of the creative edge he can bring but Farke now has to find a starting role which brings the best out of the former Germany U21 international.
McLean provided a real burst of energy and attacking intent with his cameo and Dennis Srbeny's fine run to tee up Hernandez for the game's crucial goal even jokingly earned a comparison to Diego Maradona from his boss.
The hard work is only just beginning, 45 tough games await, but there were enough bright sparks to offer encouragement amid the last-minute excitement – shared in the away end by Russell Martin, as the long-serving defender awaits a loan move.
Add to the mix that summer signing Emi Buendia is yet to join and competition for places in attack is growing.
After a pre-season with no Carrow Road games, the spirit on show from Farke's team is sure to have home fans counting the hours until kick-off against West Brom on Saturday.
Dominating possession, creating plenty – that's been seen before under Farke. If more City players can follow Hernandez's clinical lead though, this could just be a team which fans can look forward to watching.