Norwich City embark on a new direction in the Premier League

Norwich City midfielder Jonny Howson made his mark in the 1-0 Premier League win over Swansea City.

Norwich City midfielder Jonny Howson made his mark in the 1-0 Premier League win over Swansea City. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The jubilation at the final whistle underlined this was much more than three Premier League points in Norwich City's season.

John Ruddy hugged his outfield players, captain for the day Alex Tettey saluted the home fans, who responded with a raucous cry of 'Yellows' that felt like a release after weeks of frustration.

It was fitting City's on-field celebrations took place in the vicinity of their own penalty area, given the opprobrium directed at a much-maligned backline.

Ruddy went into this game as the focal point for City's porous streak, when in truth the malaise was much wider in analysing the catalogue of errors that had checked Norwich's progress.

To walk off the pitch with a first clean sheet of the season after delivering a response where it mattered most must be a source of huge satisfaction inside the Norwich dressing room. Swansea was a line in the sand but it will only trigger upward mobility if the hosts can build on the sense of renewal and positivity engendered by a win which, in many senses, highlighted the Canaries' growing maturity under Alex Neil.


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This display was the antithesis of the Scot's swashbuckling template which propelled Norwich out of the Championship in a flood of goals and attacking motion.

Momentum carried them so far in the early skirmishes at the higher level but there was an uncomfortable sense rivals were working out Neil and his methods, allied to the damaging creep of those self-inflicted individual mistakes.

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Things reached a nadir in the rudderless second-half showing at Newcastle, when Neil openly admitted he twisted too early in the piece at St James' Park and then had to watch helplessly as the Magpies tore into his side with a devastating burst.

West Brom profited from the ruptures exposed on Tyneside but an unjust Capital One Cup exit contained the seeds of a new, more pragmatic second front.

Neil has not just shuffled his pack but demanded his players embrace a new, more reactive culture. A trip to a high-class Manchester City inevitably required a degree of revision, but to effectively concede the ball at home to a team raised on possession football illustrated Neil's bravery and the belief he retains in those under his command.

Neil also needed Norwich's fans to buy into this new philosophy as much as his players, given the prolonged bouts of Swansea possession spanning the first 70 minutes that fanned feelings of anxiety in the home crowd triggered by the club's poor recent run.

Rarely did the Swans get behind the hosts in wide areas. Ruddy was afforded the protection that too often has been absent in recent times, with Norwich trying to force the pace and commit men forward.

Neil admitted it was a 'back to basics' plan designed to frustrate Garry Monk's men. There were still flaws; Norwich's use of the ball before the surge that produced Jonny Howson's match-winning header was too often frayed and imprecise, but the confidence visibly coursed in the aftermath of the goal with Lukasz Fabianski denying Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan.

Cameron Jerome softened up Swansea's centre backs before Neil unleashed Dieumerci Mbokani to bully the visitors' defence. The on-loan striker's muscular presence offered ballast and helped disrupt the Swans' search for parity.

This was an afternoon when Norwich offered irrefutable evidence they can win games in the Premier League without being at their free-flowing best. City's ability to gain points when resolve and resolution outweigh quality should not be under-estimated in the wider context. There will be plenty more outings of this nature over the coming months, particularly against clubs orbiting outside the elite, when the currency is results rather than performances.

Neil, his players and the majority inside Carrow Road were rewarded for their patience. The key to this victory came in Norwich's willingness to broker a degree of re-invention.

Monk's Swansea remain constricted by their zealous belief in the merits of measured, possession football. As Neil himself said when it works it is an aesthetically pleasing way to win games in the Premier League. When it works.

But given Monk's side went into the game buffeted by the same turbulence there was a sense of predictability which Norwich ruthlessly exploited. The Swansea chief could do worse than follow the lead of his old Barnsley team mate.

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