Right time, right place for Norwich City’s latest midfield maestro Alex Pritchard
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Alex Pritchard certainly made a lasting impression on Alex Neil.
Norwich City's latest midfield addition was chiefly responsible for inflicting a first defeat on the Canaries' boss when Brentford triumphed 2-1 at Carrow Road three games into his reign.
Pritchard scored the winner from the penalty spot that day, in January 2015, and ran the show in a deeper-lying number 10 role for the Bees during a successful season-loan spell from Tottenham.
Norwich, and Neil for that matter, may have had the final say in a campaign which ended memorably at Wembley by beating a Middlesbrough who hammered Pritchard's Brentford in the play-off semi-finals.
Neil was heavily touted with a loan move of his own for the 23-year-old last season before the cultured midfielder opted to continue his education at West Brom.
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But the Scot is nothing if not persistent. Pritchard was enticed away from Brighton's clutches this week to bolster a midfield roster the envy of the Championship; perhaps with the exception of free-spending Newcastle United.
Sergi Canos joined from Liverpool earlier this summer - another high end talent with the technical grace so coveted by Neil. Wes Hoolahan has shown plenty since returning from the European Championships he is far from ready to be shifted from the spotlight. The Republic of Ireland international's new contract is a visible symbol of the Dubliner's importance to the Canaries. Neil practically eulogised about the 34-year-old's effectiveness after his two-goal salvo against Hannover.
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Steven Naismith embarks on his first full season in yellow aiming to deliver on the hype and the price tag that accompanied his protracted move from Everton. Add the width and penetration of the Murphy twins and the artistry of another bright young thing in James Maddison and the 'embarrassment of riches' is not simply a lazy cliché but hardly justifies the creativity at Neil's disposal. This, of course, precludes the drive and invention of Jonny Howson, the industry of Alex Tettey and the metronomic passing ability of Graham Dorrans, who you suspect will compete for those deeper-lying roles in the City midfield.
Neil labelled Canos the perfect replacement for Southampton-bound Nathan Redmond when he beat off competition from a number of Championship suitors, in an echo of the successful chase for Pritchard. The Murphys have also been urged to apply for the vacancy with the luckless Matt Jarvis facing an early-season spell on the sidelines after his latest knee surgery. But Pritchard may just have jumped the queue to begin life down the Norwich right in front of an Ivo Pinto or Steven Whittaker.
The Essex boy has forged a reputation as an intelligent craftsman, schooled in the finest Tottenham traditions of a willingness to caress the ball rather than bludgeon it. Considering his path to the Spurs' first team was blocked by Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Moussa Dembele it is hardly a slight on the young man he has opted to cut his ties at White Hart Lane and forge his own career path in Norfolk.
The prospect of Pritchard and Hoolahan flanking Naismith to service Cameron Jerome, in front of a Howson or Tettey at Ewood Park, is a tantalising one for all concerned.
Neil of course must decide whether it is too soon to unleash Pritchard, given the relatively abbreviated period to acclimatise to his new surroundings, but that public commitment to entertain from the Norwich manager this time around after the rigours of the Premier League is far more than an empty soundbite.
The jousting to prevail over these coming nine months for a place in Norwich City's midfield could be the most enjoyable part of the ride ahead.