Paddy Davitt verdict: Norwich City embark on a voyage of discovery
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
A last hurrah or the dawn of a new era at Norwich City? Time will tell, but the Canaries' historic 7-1 Championship win over play-off chasing Reading was a day to savour at Carrow Road.
The surgical precision with which Alan Irvine, Russell Martin and the rest of a scintillating cast list in yellow and green embarrassed Jaap Stam's Royals was breathtaking.
City went for the jugular and unleashed a torrent of attacking intent that could, and in all probability should, have threatened double figures. Norwich were that good. Reading were abysmal and on this evidence can forget any pretensions to get past the likes of Leeds United or Huddersfield in those fraught play-off tussles ahead.
The chief architect of the Terriers' revolution, Stuart Webber, knows he inherits a group of players who undoubtedly possess the guile, talent and class to sweep aside most in the Championship. But the club's newly-anointed sporting director will also know there is much work ahead, based on City's league status and the carnage that unfolded at the John Smith's stadium prior to completing his protracted move from West Yorkshire.
Norwich's squad is not fit for purpose if the measure is promotion, not simply serving up thrilling, attacking verve. The contrast between Norwich's productivity in the secure confines of Carrow Road and beyond the Norfolk border is not simply marked, it is a chasm. Reading may have been pummelled into submission - as amateur statisticians thumbed through dusty annals to place this City win in context - but Stam's youngsters have claimed nine more away points than Norwich.
The Canaries have plundered a league-best 48 goals at home but shipped 43 away; a tally only exceeded by League One-bound Rotherham. You do not need Webber's impressive CV to know where the problems lie.
There will be seismic change to the playing squad over the summer months, once Webber's preferred head coach candidate leaves his current posting at the end of this campaign. That quest for a fresh, new identity and a bold, cohesive approach requires revolution not revision. There has been a staleness and a gnawing sense City have been left behind on the pitch, which was brought into graphic focus against the Terriers.
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For as good as Norwich looked in the spring sunshine, Reading contributed to their own downfall with a defensive abdication all too familiar for regular travellers from these parts. The catalogue of individual mistakes, the lack of communication, the dazed expressions, for once, were in the opposition ranks.
Yet for all the torrent of criticism triggered by events in Huddersfield, and many other outposts this season, Reading can prove a watershed.
Martin's personal goal celebration was tinged with a raw emotion the captain later revealed was partly a response to his critics and a commemoration of the life of long-serving club stalwart, Peter Oldfield. This romp was a fitting tribute to a man who loved the Canaries. Martin's loyalty or his affection for a club that have given him the best days of his football career should never be questioned either. Whether or not he has a prominent role to play moving forward is in the gift of Webber and a new head coach.
Irvine called it right on the eve of battle. Those who don the yellow and green are now on trial. The focus, the intent, the refusal to allow Reading back into a one-sided romp must be the norm not the exception between now and QPR's final day visit.
City face a testing Easter programme, with Fulham locked in a tussle with Sheffield Wednesday to seal the final play-off spot, and Preston still harbouring faint hopes they can capitalise on any stumbles. Norwich's squad is playing for pride, points and a place in Webber's plans.
The 33-year-old delivered an assured display at his official unveiling on Friday but just below the surface, and those soothing soundbites regarding his new club's potential, was the hard-edged pragmatism. Those who want to be part of this journey will, those who don't or are incapable of clambering on board will be jettisoned.
There can be no misplaced loyalty, no sense of duty to players who have performed admirably in the past. This is a fresh start, a clean slate and Reading, perhaps in terms of performance rather than the staggering margin of victory, is the new benchmark.