Norwich City must rise to the Premier League challenge
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich's anaemic display at Hull merely served to offer further justification for their lavish summer outlay.
On this occasion, in these set of circumstances the Canaries' efforts were every bit as fitful as the worst days of last season; when the ball was held captive instead of caressed, when possession was seen as a necessary evil rather than a means of exerting pressure and probing for vulnerability in the opposition.
All the worst traits of an ultimately successful tilt at Premier League survival in Chris Hughton's first season re-surfaced at the KC Stadium; magnified exponentially by their abject failure to solve the puzzle of how to overcome a newly-promoted side reduced to 10-men for more than an hour. Digested through such a filter and the initial irritation felt by many, including the manager, was entirely justified. Lessons can be salvaged even from the wreck of performance that will not linger long in the memory.
For the new boys like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Leroy Fer it was a brutal introduction to the competitive seam that runs through every opponent they will face in the Premier League this season.
But to lambast Hughton's re-shaped squad now is to laud many of the same players who resisted at Sunderland in an identical situation on Wearside last season, when Mark Bunn was dismissed in the opening period. On that afternoon, Norwich led through Wes Hoolahan before the concession of a debatable penalty followed by the rejection of strong appeals of their own when Russell Martin's marauding run and cross appeared to be handled by Danny Rose. The parallels should not be dismissed lightly. Norwich were masterfully defiant at the Stadium of Light in the same way Hull's obdurate resistance held sway. Norwich's fate on Humberside was framed by the intervention of referee Mike Jones, but they also appeared reluctant to shape their own destiny.
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To lose in such fashion after the stirring comeback against Everton and a luxurious summer of seemingly limitless possibilities induced a wretched sensation. Norwich's fevered activity in the transfer market was designed to address deficiencies and drab days like these. For it to happen again so early in the campaign suggests the process of assimilation may contain tubulent interludes.
At the last count Norwich have recruited three new strikers, an attacking wide player and a midfielder who appears equally comfortable in advanced positions or operating in a screening role in front of the Canaries' back four.
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Norwich were functional rather than flamboyant last season which prompted a revision and a re-invigoration of the resources at Hughton's disposal over recent months. City's hierarchy have backed their manager and the quality threshold has undoubtedly been raised, but at this embryonic stage it is too simplistic to expect van Wolfswinkel and Fer to decide the outcome of Premier League games when their combined exposure runs to minutes rather than matches at this level. Both are incredibly talented young men who can flourish in this country in the right conditions but, much like Nathan Redmond, they need time and patience to grow.
All three were at the hub of Norwich's most incisive incursions. Redmond tested Allan McGregor from range in the opening period and clipped the base of a post with a free kick. Fer's thumping early header bounced a yard wide on a debut the Dutchman had cause to be satisfied with and van Wolfswinkel's instinctive aerial ability only failed to bring Norwich a second-half equaliser through the dexterity of McGregor.
It was the volume of productivity that proved City's greatest failing. When Robbie Brady's first-half penalty served to accelerate the flow of a game that Norwich appeared intent on controlling they alarmingly opted to abdicate responsibility. When the onus was placed firmly on the visitors to wrestle the initiative in the aftermath of Yannick Sagbo's rash red-card offence they retreated.
If Norwich are truly intent on growth in the Premier League this season their players have to shake off the last remaining vestiges of any inferiority complex and realise they are more than good enough to not only stay in the Premier League but impose their will on clubs like Hull, who view the Canaries as a perfect role model – much in the way City put the likes of Fulham and Stoke on a pedestal upon their ascent to the Premier League.
Norwich's faltering steps this time last year could be attributed in large measure to the early days of Hughton's reign and the attendant teething troubles. There is no such defence this time around.
City's squad may have undergone a major refresh but the core elements remain firmly in place. The Canaries can expect to find themselves in similar scenarios again to the one that presented them at the KC Stadium over the next nine months. They need to embrace the challenge.