Norwich City look comfortable hitting the right notes

Norwich captain Russell Martin is the peace maker at Watford. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Imag

Norwich captain Russell Martin is the peace maker at Watford. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

There is no sweeter sound for an away side than the clatter of seats from home fans seeking an early exit.

Vicarage Road was the backdrop to a perfect symphony for Alex Neil, his impressive Norwich City players and a travelling contingent who must approach the Championship climax with something akin to fevered anticipation.

Neil will not get swept away on a wave of optimism and you can rest assured his players will not be allowed to deviate from the path he has mapped out for them, but those outside the bubble may struggle to contain growing excitement.

Norwich look a different animal to the hesitant, introverted species who stumbled through autumn and emerged from relative hibernation needing a sustained run of results to make up lost ground on the top six.

Now they can fix their sights on the summit after ruthlessly despatching another promotion rival with the same measured poise they displayed on home soil against Wolves. This was an exhibition in controlled aggression. Norwich invited Watford to try and break them down and with frustration palpably growing after an hour or so showed them how it should be done at the opposite end.

The manner with which Norwich collectively pressed high up the pitch to force a turnover finished with aplomb by Cameron Jerome for the visitors' second was classic Neil; individual brilliance wedded to optimum efficiency.

Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper made way at Vicarage Road as Neil favoured a degree of re-invention where, in the past perhaps, such flexibility and an appreciation of the opposition's strengths appeared to mark a sign of weakness.

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City's manager is a pragmatist and if it takes a different system and different personnel there is no place for misguided loyalty to those who may have carried out his instructions previously.

Men like Sebastien Bassong and Lewis Grabban have responded to Neil's hard-headed diplomacy.

Bassong and Russell Martin subdued Troy Deeney and the prolific Odion Ighalo to anchor another clean sheet which again sold a lie to the misconception Norwich need to score more than they concede to prevail at this level.

City's balance between defensive resolve and creative output is a central tenet in the sustained revival on the ex-Hamilton chief's watch.

This feels much more than a new manager bounce; Neil has melded his group together and dragged them behind his cause. Now those same players can see the tangible results of the Scot's philosophy.

Brentford was a blip but either side has seen sustained progress. By his own admission, the manager got it wrong against the Bees in deploying Steven Whittaker in an unaccustomed holding role to plug an area of his squad ravaged at the time by injury and suspension, but that has proved an isolated aberration.

City prevailed on the pitch against Wolves and now Watford in the same comprehensive manner Neil has decisively won his own tactical battles.

Wolves had lost one in 12 before they headed to Norfolk. Watford had won five of their previous six but the scale of such challenges at present seems only to inspire the Canaries.

Watford raged at the sense of injustice from the chain of events that led to a penalty Grabban coolly slotted after Wes Hoolahan tumbled in a confined pocket of space. City may have shared the hosts' frustration had the same sequence unfolded in their own area, but referee Berry had no hesitation as he thrust his left arm towards the spot.

Norwich themselves have been on the receiving end this season, most recently Adam Le Fondre's collapse over Carlos Cuellar in Neil's Carrow Road home league debut win against Cardiff City. That is not meant as mitigation, nor justification for what occurred at Vicarage Road, but it would be naïve to deny such contentious incidents occur on a weekly basis.

Joel Ekstrand could have been dismissed for the second time in this fixture when he clearly hauled back Jerome in the opening period, as the Norwich striker looked to race clear with only Heurelho Gomes to confront. Referee Berry took one look at his assistant and waved play on.

Grabban's penalty success was a catalyst, not the defining act, and City's response in the aftermath was brutal.

Jerome embarrassed Gomes with a precision lob, Grabban then slid in at the far post to slot Whittaker's gorgeous cross - one a slice of improvisation, one a clinical counter.

Norwich again appeared to have all the answers and with three of the top four to visit Carrow Road they have the conditions to muscle their way into an automatic promotion berth that looked beyond them.

The Canaries' surge is fostering a stirring expectancy within and a renewed sense of respect from without. Managing those conflicting currents is arguably Neil's greatest task over the run-in.

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