Green shoots carry plenty of promise for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's vibrant Premier League opener against Everton carried the rich promise of so much more to come from Chris Hughton's re-shaped squad.
Some may feel unfulfilled by City's failure to overcome a Toffees' outfit under new management and in a state of transition after David Moyes' long dynasty; especially after Steven Whittaker's wonderfully adventurous solo strike. But that would be to ignore the impressive cohesion of Everton's midfield and the effervescent urgings of young men such as Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman.
Definitive judgements from the first 90 minutes of the season are fraught with danger, but Everton have the experience and the streetwise nous to complement an enviable seam of talent that should propel Roberto Martinez's squad onwards and upwards into the battle for European football.
Given Hughton opted not to risk Robert Snodgrass or Gary Hooper along with the expected injury absences of Sebastien Bassong and Anthony Pilkington, allied to Leroy Fer's suspension, City mined a hard-fought point from difficult terrain.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel's predatory headed equaliser and Nathan Redmond's glimpses of trickery provided dashes of colour on an afternoon when City's disciplined resolve and belligerence to overcome fresh adversity underpinned their seasonal re-appearance. Russell Martin was a colossal presence at centre-half. The Scottish international seemingly gets better with age, his reading of the game and ability to put out smouldering fires is unrivalled in Hughton's squad. Martin's shift may not have contained the eye-catching, crowd-pleasing moments of Norwich's new boys, but his presence was crucial when Everton threatened to marry their mastery of midfield with attacking potency. Kevin Mirallas' strike before the interval from Coleman's cut-back was goalbound before Martin offered an immovable object. City's skipper repeated the trick in the last 10 minutes when John Ruddy's superb point blank save from Steven Naismith saw the rebound spiral invitingly for Nikica Jelavic to ram goalwards, but Martin had again anticipated the danger.
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The captain's first-half caution was another selfless act after Mirallas had skipped past Javier Garrido. City's left-flank, in truth, was too often exposed by the marauding Coleman, a fact Hughton alluded to afterwards when he spoke of the precocious Redmond's sharp learning curve. The England Under-21 midfielder is a star of the future if he maintains his current stratospheric trajectory, but the teenager also needs time to mature. That may well, at propitious moments of this new season, come away from the harsh spotlight when Pilkington and Snodgrass return to full fitness.
Redmond is a priceless commodity, an unpredictable mix who brings crowds to the edge of their seats and sparks palpitations in back-pedalling defenders, but there were occasions when Everton's net engulfed to force turnovers and trigger dangerous counter-attacking opportunities.
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For all that, Ruddy remained well-protected until his late decisive intervention; a testament to the organisation and team shape that was Hughton's lasting legacy from his first season. Without the ball, Norwich have few rivals in the Premier League, as City's defensive midfielders shuffle back into entrenched positions. On the one occasion Everton pierced that barrier through Steven Pienaar's intelligent pass City were breached. That will have irked Hughton, but it was a reminder how high the tariff is in the Premier League.
Yet Everton were not immune to sporadic aberrations. Van Wolfswinkel's wonderfully dexterous snap header was the Dutchman's only clear sighter on his Premier League debut. Sylvain Distin had managed to smother a first-half chance when Wes Hoolahan and Elliott Bennett raided down the right following a Bradley Johnson interception; a move hinting at latent potential with mobile targets such as van Wolfswinkel and Hooper now in harness. Whittaker's sliced shot fortuitously arrowed in the striker's direction but the instinctive leap and execution was balletic poetry, matched by the initial drift to lose first Distin and then Phil Jagielka.
City poured forward in the aftermath with both Jonny Howson and Alex Tettey lacking the same levels of composure. Everton's ambition burned just as brightly as Coleman's swinging effort veered beyond Ruddy's far post after Naismith and Jelavic had been foiled.
Hughton was happy to settle for a point but may well reflect Norwich were too open at times in the second period after Whittaker's virtuoso offering sparked a ferocious riposte.
In difficult circumstances this was still an encouraging marker. The displays of both van Wolfswinkel and Redmond served to allay early season fears the process of assimilation may prove an arduous one. Fer and Martin Olsson have similarly impressed on the friendly circuit.
Cast in such a reflective light, Everton could be viewed as a positive first step on the journey.