Norwich City must not squander West Brom Premier League legacy
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Perhaps it takes a Premier League victory forged through adversity to view Norwich City in a more reflective light.
Failure to attain a genuine consistency both in results and performances this campaign has exposed Chris Hughton and his players to wildly fluctuating generalisations fuelled by sections of a support who, rightly, demand better given the sizeable summer transfer outlay and two seasons of relative top-flight success.
Record-breaking squad expansion and a third consecutive year in the Premier League is now the framework within which Hughton is judged. The Canaries should be commended for raising their collective sights and embarking on an ambitious phase in their development, but the by-product is a heightened level of expectation and a less forgiving assessment of their productivity.
Norwich City possess a management and a group of players who are better than the slim rations they served up at Manchester City and Liverpool. But when you view those abject showings through a short-termism which pervades in and outside the game the scope for rational judgment narrows and each fresh debilitating setback feels like a crisis; each heavy defeat further confirmation in certain quarters Hughton and his players are not good enough to flourish.
Norwich can defend set-pieces better than they showed at Newcastle or even attack with more potency than they offered at Hull earlier this season. We know this because days like West Brom serve to restore faith and renew belief among a loyal fan base and inside a dressing room where even the strongest characters must have endured bouts of introspection during recent times.
The Canaries are not as bad as the circumstantial evidence has suggested on the road for the majority of a testing season, but it will take more afternoons of honest toil and clinical counter-attacking thrust to break the cycle of boom and bust.
Norwich looked a cohesive defensive unit against West Brom and when it mattered in the game's defining moments a dynamic threat in the final third.
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Gary Hooper and Leroy Fer grabbed another goal apiece and in the process illustrated why Norwich proactively courted both during such an uplifting close season of transfer activity. Players of the calibre and potential of Hooper and Fer were recruited to embellish the core of a squad who required a fresh injection to evolve.
With each passing week and each goal Hooper looks a genuine Premier League performer. The instinctive arc of his run to lose a seasoned international in Baggies' centre-back Diego Lugano and the instant unleashing of a ferocious shot guided unerringly into the bottom corner of Boaz Myhill's goal was a predatory act. But Hooper will only prove residually effective if City manage to construct regular supply lines in the shape of creative players like Fer or Jonny Howson centrally and any number of options in wide areas once Norwich's injury backlog eases.
The Baggies may justifiably argue it was their own limitations which contributed to a priceless Norwich win, but in that regard there was little difference between the way Albion pummelled away relentlessly for little reward and Cardiff's recent visit to Norfolk, when David Marshall's obduracy and City's profligacy combined to unleash new waves of dissatisfaction regarding the listless direction of Norwich's Premier League season.
On this occasion it was John Ruddy who was manfully defiant and Norwich's backline who resisted. Michael Turner justified his selection in a contest tailor-made for his unique brand of honest endeavour. Sebastien Bassong patrolled the near post like a watchful sentry as the hosts' rained crosses into the Canaries' penalty area in a second half of incessant bombardment.
Those still to be convinced may seek to downplay the scale of Norwich's achievement on the basis Albion do not possess players of the calibre of Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez; strikers who have terrorised the Canaries on their travels. Yet only Swansea have scored more goals in the bottom half of the division approaching this festive period. The welcome sight of Shane Long and Saido Berahino on the home bench until half-time was an indisputable bonus that left Steve Clarke open to the same acidic line of questioning which has dogged Hughton for weeks after Norwich managed to inflict a third league defeat in just seven days. Stephane Sessegnon poked wide with Ruddy to beat after a rare chink in City's central defence and saw another effort strike Martin Olsson's arm at point blank range inside the penalty box. Few would begrudge Norwich a break or two given the turmoil they have had to endure; fate is just as valuable a commodity as confidence. Armed with the rejuvenating effects of a win harvested in such arduous circumstances Norwich can harness the benefits for upcoming games against Swansea, Sunderland and Fulham.
City's corresponding trip to this part of the Midlands last season signalled the end of a club record Premier League run and the beginning of a decline that threatened to become terminal. A successful return must form the basis of a sustained search for upward mobility.