Six things we learned from Norwich City’s defeat to Crystal Palace
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The Canaries endured a disappointing return to the Premier League on Saturday with a 3-1 defeat. Gavin Caney looks at what we discovered in the setback.
1. A new league, but Alex Neil will remain true to his principles
Don't for one minute believe that the omission of Nathan Redmond was a sign of a negative approach from Norwich City. While there was a change in personnel, there was nothing different about the way the Canaries approached their Premier League return. Setting up in exactly the same way as they did during that famous afternoon at Wembley,
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Alex Neil's men set about their task with a high intensity. The pressing game which became so synonymous with the charge out of the Championship has not been replaced with a cautious approach. Just look at how many times Robbie Brady, in particular, was found in an advanced position. It may be a new league but Neil looks set to remain true to his principles.
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You could argue that Redmond was left out in favour of a slightly more defensive alternative out wide – or saved as a substitute after a gruelling summer – in the shape of Jonny Howson. But the former Leeds man showed more attacking intent than any.
Neil likes his team to play on the front foot. And on Saturday's evidence that appears how he will still instruct his troops to continue following promotion back to the promised land.
2. Hoolahan is a central part of City's attacking plans
Under the tenure of Chris Hughton, it appeared Wes Hoolahan's days at Carrow Road were numbered. Left out or forced to operate from the wing, the little magician was just not trusted to pull the strings from a central position.
It hadn't, largely, been that way under Paul Lambert and it appears Alex Neil is also not willing to sacrifice his playmaker's creative instincts. City's starting XI was set up to allow the Irishman to cause problems in advanced positions.
He was deployed just behind Lewis Grabban with the pair of Graham Dorrans and Alex Tettey doing the covering work behind him.
That system brings the best out of a true number 10 who, early on, kept finding dangerous pockets on the edge of Crystal Palace's area. While his influence waned as the visitors got a foothold in the game, it's no surprise that when the hosts were on top, Hoolahan was involved. There may come a time that the 33-year-old is not used – or deployed elsewhere.
But the signs are there for now that Neil has trust in 'Wessi' to cause as many problems among the elite as he did during the Canaries' brief stay in the second tier of English football.
3. Search for a proven hitman will have to step up a notch
Players, let alone strikers, need more than one game to be judged. Yet it was abundantly clear against the Eagles that attacking reinforcements are needed – and fast. Norwich simply do not not have time to wait for Lewis Grabban to be able to try and find his feet in the Premier League.
They need to hit the ground running to increase their chances of survival.
And far from laying the blame at the top-flight rookie's door for the defeat – his wastefulness in front of goal did play a part in Alex Neil men's downfall.
Grabban would have been lambasted for missing two absolute sitters had his blushes not been saved by the offside flag for his first poor attempt.
Both times the former Bournemouth man should have used his weaker left foot.
Yet he opted for his right and made a mess of it.
A confident goal-getter wouldn't have needed to adopt the safe approach of trying to use his preferred foot. Understandably, Grabban's morale took a hit after the glaring misses. He'll bounce back from it and of course may come good. But what damage will have been done before then? City's current strikers all have a part to play. Yet a proven hitman, with top-flight know-how, is missing from the squad right now. And the sooner one arrives the better.
4. Don't forget the havoc Redmond can wreak as a substitute
Wingers like Nathan Redmond tend to split opinion. Yet even his biggests critics would struggle to argue against the clear notion he improved vastly during the second half of last season.
Added directness, increased end product and extra goals have made him an exciting part of Norwich's plans moving forward. A summer away with England Under-21s may have been a defining feature in why the pacy player was used as a substitute against Crystal Palace. However, 'Redderz' showed upon his introduction why he will still be a key man for Alex Neil this term.
The 21-year-old scored and offered something entirely different.
That willingness and ability to drive forward will cause even the best Premier League defenders problems – especially when they are tired. So perhaps it's best remembered that, while Neil eases him back into the fold, Redmond's introduction from the sidelines can have a huge effect on proceedings. Far from suggesting he will always be used as an impact substitute, it's a decent card for City to play in tight games. It's now down to Neil whether he decides to use it from the start.
5. Johnson's aerial threat may be less called upon
Bradley Johnson carved his name in City folklore during arguably the best season of his career. Fifteen goals and a string of powerful displays rightly earned him the Barry Butler Trophy as player of the season.
But it may be a little bit different this time round for 'Jonno' after his scintillating Championship exploits.
While the now left-sided midfielder still has many massive attributes, one was less used against Palace. Against a number of sides last term, namely Ipswich Town, Johnson's aerial ability was called upon constantly to cause damage to City's opponents.
A diagonal ball from right to left saw the number four power in from the flank and beat the opposing right-back to a high ball. Interestingly, that tactic was rarely used at the weekend.
Perhaps Alex Neil and his coaching staff realise that approach will not reap any rewards against better defenders among the cream of the crop. Or maybe they understood that right-back Joel Ward was a match for Johnson. Against a less impressive full-back, that tactic may be deployed. Yet for now, the move may well be a thing of the past.
6. Ref's horror show can increase feeling of siege mentality
Manager Alex Neil has transformed many things since his arrival from north of the border. Yet perhaps his greatest feat is uniting the club from top to bottom. Under Chris Hughton, supporters had lost faith in the man at the helm.
But now they have full belief in City's latest Scot in the dugout. That feeling of positivity continued to sweep around the yellows' home against Palace. Even at 2-0 down, there were few signs of discontent. The quiet was soon replaced by a raucous noise when Nathan Redmond equalised. Had Cameron Jerome's sublime overhead kick been allowed, the roof would have remained off Carrow Road for days to come.
Put simply, there is no inferiority complex this time around.
The 'us against the world' approach that was instilled during a promotion-clinching term has only increased with Norwich being tipped for immediate relegation. It has heightened the bond between players and fans. So if there's one positive from referee Simon Hooper's horror show, it's that the feelings of siege mentality will only increase. Norwich were more than hard done by against Alan Pardew's slick operators. That shared feeling of defensiveness can only improve City's growing collective bond.