Norwich City show no signs of wilting in the Premier League
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City's support delivered their verdict at the final whistle after a pulsating Premier League contest where Alex Neil's men had defied intolerable heat and Stoke's expensively-assembled squad.
The applause was warm, the affection genuine after another shift rich in effort and at times top-end quality.
A first Carrow Road league win of the season remained elusive due to Jack Butland's obduracy and that lack of a clinical edge, which forced Neil to deflect fresh questions on his striker search in the transfer market.
Right now, assessing Norwich's progress is all about perception.
City were exposed on a set-piece for the second consecutive weekend to underline the levels of concentration and personal responsibility required in the Premier League. Yet in open play John Ruddy was again a virtual spectator as Russell Martin marshalled those in front of him to repel the Potters.
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At the opposite end, Norwich carved out a stack of chances to have won numerous encounters during a sustained onslaught that was breathless in its intensity. Cameron Jerome's attempt to clip a shot with the outside of his right foot past Butland shortly after the interval betrayed that lack of coolness which seems to hinder Norwich; yet Jerome has been a constant menace in his two starts and, but for an errant official, would have got off the mark against Crystal Palace.
That is not to excuse the frontman but to place the 28-year-old's epic efforts in context. Wes Hoolahan glanced an unmarked close-range header wide, Nathan Redmond similarly had only Butland to beat but his great friend produced a wonderful fingertip stop. Graham Dorrans was denied twice in a personal duel and Bradley Johnson thumped a close range volley over deep in stoppage time from the excellent Robbie Brady's precision free-kick. To narrow the focus to Jerome is to excuse City's collective profligacy.
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Neil is targeting fresh firepower in the closing days of the transfer window but Norwich's corporate approach against Stoke illustrated that desire to attract new blood should not be misconstrued.
Neil is striving to evolve – to flourish rather than simply survive. The opening three weekends offered irrefutable proof the Canaries will be competitive and they can bridge the financial gulf to clubs with far bigger resources capable of attracting the star names.
Much of the pre-match hype surrounded Stoke's £12m club record signing Xherdan Shaqiri, who offered glimpses of his craft during a debut that also embellished Brady's growing influence on this Norwich side.
It is worth reiterating the Republic of Ireland international is by trade an attacking left-sided midfielder, but after genuine opening day difficulties against a serious operator in Jason Puncheon, Brady has delivered a passable impression of a modern-day full-back.
His offensive output during the second half emphasised the shift in power after Stoke's control of the ball and territory had edged the opening phase. Once Martin levelled the force was with Norwich.
Butland was thrust centre stage in a performance made all the more remarkable by Mark Hughes' assertion afterwards he had suffered a broken finger in training and was a major injury doubt. That merely added another layer to Norwich's frustrations; as if they were fated not to get the better of the young keeper and the Potters.
It was not for the want of trying and that, you sensed, is what produced voluminous backing from the Carrow Road faithful. From the moment Sandy Kennon's passing was marked in a fitting pre-match tribute to the final whistle, the home fans made their presence felt. Contrast such unity with the rancour at the Stadium of Light the previous weekend. That comes from Neil and his players who, after recovering from a self-inflicted blow, pressed and harried in the intense heat.
But there is more to Norwich than sweat and toil. Hoolahan, Jonny Howson and the increasingly influential Dorrans possess the range of passing and guile to punch holes in opposition rearguards. Redmond offers that direct threat, supplemented by overlapping full-backs, and in Jerome there is a mobile, athletic focal point.
Yes, Neil has work to do at both ends of the pitch but the Scot is building from a solid base.
Any lingering vestiges of self-doubt within the City dressing room should have been stripped away. As Neil himself said once the applause had died down, if Norwich play to their full potential they will make life uncomfortable for any Premier League rival. Stoke could testify to that.