Prosperity is within Norwich City’s grasp again
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City confronted a face from their past on a day that should convince them they control their Championship future.
Derby's impressive start to the new campaign after the agonies of a play-off final defeat at Wembley to Gary O'Neil's QPR marked them out as the benchmark; the standard measurement for success in the second tier.
O'Neil himself made it clear earlier this season whichever side finishes above Steve McClaren's Rams will be promoted. He more than most within Neil Adams' squad would know the qualities required to extricate yourself from this most arduous of divisions.
Norwich left the East Midlands not just with a hard-earned point courtesy of Steven Whittaker's excellent finish but an undeniable sense they deserved more for their efforts. This was not a backs-to-the-wall display dripping in toil and defensive resolve. Only flashes of the vulnerability which has undermined them in recent months prevented a more profitable outcome. The truth was Norwich controlled the ebb and flow for the most part. When they slipped Chris Martin was usually the common denominator in a flawless outing against the club who cut him adrift.
There was little muted in the scale of Martin's joyous celebration when he slammed home a second-half spot kick past John Ruddy after his cuteness earned the penalty at Carlos Cuellar's expense.
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You could hardly blame the Beccles boy for that. Martin reiterated during the build-up to his first reunion his perfect vision had involved a longer career stay at the club he joined as a 10-year-old. Martin was unfortunate in as much as he was one of the key architects in City's initial rise from League One but by the time the Canaries landed in the opulent surroundings of the Premier League the forward's unique brand of languid control did not seem to fit the template.
Martin has matured into a classy operator at this level. Doubts may remain over his residual effectiveness in the top bracket and a lack of pace which appears the only glaring omission from his armoury. But City's centre backs were unable to prevent him perfrorming as the pivot around which Jordan Ibe or Johnny Russell profited. There are few better exponents in the Championship's battalion of strikers with their back to the opposition goal.
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The turn and awareness to slip in Russell for the opener towards the closing stages of the first half was high-end quality from a man who has plundered in huge quantities over the past 18 months.
But this was not the Chris Martin story. Norwich carried the greater punch throughout. They also showed plenty of resolve in the second period. First to get back on level terms with an intricate bout of close quarters passing prior to Cameron Jerome's far-post finish and then to reply again after the sucker punch of Cuellar's mis-timed attempted clearance.
Few in the home ranks could have argued if Lewis Grabban or Jerome had applied the coup de grace in the frenetic final seconds.
McClaren was quick to put his side's efforts in context after a gruelling week when they had come off second best at Middlesbrough and against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup. That is undeniable, but even without such rigours Norwich's up tempo approach would have caused the hosts problems.
Adams, for his part, rued a string of decisions, from Jerome's role in Alex Tettey's disallowed goal to the obvious penalty appeals when Martin Olsson's honesty in attempting to stay on his feet inside the Derby box did him or his team no favours.
It was that type of afternoon where there was something to admire and endure for both combatants. Norwich must draw huge confidence from their ability to dictate against a club who will be right in the mix.
There is a familiarity and a cohesiveness now to City's labours that was absent in the bad times. Adams has named an unchanged line-up for the past three contests but it is is the depth of his reinforcements why City should fear no-one.
Confidence is one thing but there feels a realisation Norwich do possess the personnel and the tactical flexiblity to counter-act what they face on a weekly basis.
That is the biggest change in Norwich's recent fortunes. Before the dark nights rolled in City's attacking will and force of personality consumed everything in its path. A pragmatism has emerged from adversity that accepts they can not routinely blow teams away. Derby demonstrated they can harness the robust balance between attack and defence against any opponent in the Championship.
Now the onus shifts to festive jousts with Millwall and Reading, when Norwich must prevail. It would be a major surprise if they took a backward step. One look at the current table tells you there is no margin for error. But Norwich seem to be pefecting the art of providing the right answers.