Green shoots of prosperity for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
When Norwich City serve up cohesive Championship displays of this variety those sour memories of the bad days recede just a touch further.
Blackpool arrived at Carrow Road as the only team in the Football League without an away league win this season. They left with another huge dent to their goal difference which, bar a few counter-attacking flurries, looked inevitable once Gary Hooper had smoothly slotted Jonny Howson's sumptuous pass.
Clinical efficiency underpinned the efforts of Norwich and their manager. Alex Neil has made it abundantly clear on his watch the route to sustained progress is getting a talented collection of individuals functioning as one potent force. Secure in defence, strong in attack.
Norwich were anything but functional in despatching the Tangerines. They were fluid and free-flowing in their forward motions, typified by a wonderfully vibrant second goal which melded back heels, one touch passing and movement of the highest order before Hooper showed again if there was any lingering doubt he is the best finisher at the football club.
City deserved more than simply high marks for artistic merit. Lewis Grabban set the tone for a collective level of work-rate, energy and desire that most crammed inside Carrow Road have yearned for on a consistent basis. Wes Hoolahan harried full-backs deep into the corners, Howson added ballast as well as balance alongside Bradley Johnson and even the early injury loss of Seb Bassong proved a minor disruption once Michael Turner had subdued the physical Steve Davies.
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Neil's Norwich, on a growing body of evidence, resemble a team of component parts who grasp what is required. John Ruddy was again largely a protected species until he was pressed into late service to deny Joe Rothwell. When City probed at the other end they were intelligent in their craft, switching the point of attack from central to wide areas with plenty of support for Grabban in the Blackpool penalty box, while Nathan Redmond continues to blossom under Neil's guidance. The quality of his stoppage time free kick underlined the confidence coursing through the young man.
The speed of assimilation under Neil is impressive. Against Birmingham the previous weekend we saw the grand unveiling of the Scot's preferred method, the emphasis on ball retention and dominance of midfield spaces; Blackpool added an attacking dimension so lacking at St Andrew's.
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Neil proved again there is no favouritism in his team selections. Hooper returned after sitting out most of the trip to the Midlands. Alex Tettey made way for Howson despite a composed shift against the Blues. Hoolahan's energetic promptings were a timely response to Tony Andreu's presence among the substitutes following his deadline day arrival.
Cameron Jerome has arguably been the most productive of the new intake this season, given his regular supply of goals, but with Grabban and Hooper combining so well and a greater emphasis on the thurst from a mobile midfield, the experienced frontman will know under Neil what has gone before counts fpr far less than what he brings to the party now.
Grabban's return to the ranks and Bassong's renaissance suggest Neil will reward those capable of implementing his instructions to the letter; reputations and pedigrees appear to carry little weight.
Blackpool's limitations will inevitably be used by those who expected nothing less than an emphatic home win to caution against drawing definitive conclusions. Yet even in the aftermath the City manager reiterated it was one obstacle at a time from now until the end of the season.
This Norwich vintage may not yet be cast in the image of their leader but the manner they dismantled the Seasiders carried the same assurance and inner self-belief he has exuded since his arrival.
Neil's soundbites contain a heavy dose of perspective. When City fell short at home to promotion rivals Brentford at Carrow Road he was strident in his honest assessment of their failings. Blackpool drew praise, but the focus is now on Charlton and a midweek trip to the Valley where the same set of players must respond once again.
The Addicks' league win earlier this season triggered a rapid decline which ultimately led to managerial change at Carrow Road. Some may sense an opportunity to set the record straight but that counts for very little within the bigger picture.
Charlton needs to be another link in the chain and there is an undeniable sense of genuine momentum building and a common purpose. The ride is gathering pace.