Six things we learned from Norwich City’s impressive win at Sunderland
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
After an excellent away performance kickstarted Norwich City's Premier League season at the Stadium of Light, David Freezer assesses how Alex Neil can keep his improving team in the winning habit.
1. Graham Dorrans is becoming ever more influential in the middle
Amid the panic among some supporters about a lack of transfer activity from the Canaries, the summer signing of Graham Dorrans has been rather overlooked.
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The 28-year-old played much of the second half of last season on loan at Carrow Road and steadily worked his way into the team. He showed plenty of flashes of quality, without becoming a definite first choice.
With his permanent signing from West Brom widely expected, there was little discussion about the impact the Scotland international could make this season.
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He certainly is making an impact though and was a central cog in the City machine during the victory at Sunderland.
The range of passing and comfort on the ball demonstrated by Dorrans saw him become the metronome at the heart of the midfield, finding the holes in between the labouring Black Cats players.
He teed up much of the space for Nathan Redmond, Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Howson to shine – with Alex Tettey sitting deeper to provide defensive protection.
There is also a sense that there is more to come from the classy Scot.
2. Wes Hoolahan remains City's attacking architect
Few supporters of Norwich City need persuading of the genius of Wes Hoolahan.
City's longest-serving current player was at the heart of all the good attacking play at the Stadium of Light, twisting and turning his way into space in typical style.
The Irishman – who came so close to leaving the club 18 months ago – was just too good for Sunderland.
He claimed the assists for both the goals of Steven Whittaker and Nathan Redmond, playing the crucial pass in a one-two with the goalscorers – but also played a key role in the opener.
His sublime touch to control Graham Dorrans' over-hit cross opened up a shot for Jonny Howson – which was brilliantly saved before the subsequent corner led to Russell Martin's opener.
Hoolahan's back-heel for Whittaker's goal was also something straight out of the top drawer.
He may be 33 years old now but pace was never a key component of the Dubliner's game and he is proving he can still cut it at the top level, for both club and country.
Long may that continue for a much-loved Canaries player.
3. Player-of-the-season facing battle to win back his place
There is no room for sentiment in football – as Bradley Johnson has discovered all too quickly this season.
A swashbuckling 15-goal season ensured the 28-year-old was the toast of Carrow Road at the end of the last campaign, comfortably winning the club's player-of-the-season contest.
Yet Johnson found himself on the bench at Sunderland, a victim of the need for Alex Neil to make room for the excellent Nathan Redmond in his starting line-up.
There is no doubt the former Leeds midfielder still has a big part to play in City's season, one match on the bench of course does not mean that is where he will stay.
Weigh in with some more spectacular goals and it will be difficult to keep the determined battler out of the side.
Yet now he will have to remain patient and take the chances which come along. Jonny Howson performed very well in the left midfield role at the Stadium of Light and Johnson was introduced as City's top performance was starting to run out of steam. The upcoming Capital One Cup clash at Rotherham may offer him the ideal chance to remind Neil of what he can offer.
His place on the bench now represents the strength of City's midfield unit, with Youssouf Mulumbu also yet to return from injury.
4. Opposition sides will be treating Nathan Redmond as the Canaries' dangerman
Much has been expected of Nathan Redmond from a young age but there is a real sense of his coming of age in the last six months.
Even in the early stages of last season the winger was struggling for consistency and end product – but those days look firmly in the past now.
Under the guidance of Alex Neil the England Under-21 international has flourished, as Sunderland found to their cost on Saturday.
Redmond, who turned 21 in March, looked a class above the Black Cats. His performance was befitting of a player who was named in Uefa's team of the tournament at the European Under-21 Championships this summer.
His speed and skill across the frontline tormented the Sunderland defence, with his goal taking his tally to five in his last six league matches for City.
On this form he is a definite starter and is sure to attract some admiring glances from other top-flight clubs. Keep it up and he is sure to be one of the players that the Canaries' hierarchy will be looking to tie down to a longer term contract.
5. Sunderland boss should have listened to his wife
The body language of Black Cats boss Dick Advocaat summed up the mood aptly at the Stadium of Light.
With a bumper crowd of over 41,000 packed in for the north-east club's first home game of the season, there was a sense of confusion and mass frustration for the home supporters.
For Norwich City, it was a clear signal that there was one team worse than them in the top flight. If Alex Neil's side romp to victory against two further teams in such style this season then they can be confident they will stay up.
Sunderland were little short of pathetic. After an evenly-matched battle in the opening 15 minutes, City took complete control and played some lovely football.
As the home players deteriorated in front of their eyes, the volume of anger from the home fans increased.
Advocaat was due to retire in the summer, after leading the Black Cats to survival by taking charge for the final nine games of last season.
At 67 years old, the Dutchman's wife wanted him to retire. He should not have reversed his decision for the squad of players he is in charge of.
6. Top efforts of Cameron Jerome deserve more appreciation
He may not have got a goal yet this season but Cameron Jerome has set about proving his status as City's main striker rather effectively.
If 21 goals in his first season were not enough to persuade his doubters then it is unlikely they will change their mind about the former Stoke and Crystal Palace forward.
Yet against the Black Cats the 28-year-old proved his all-round abilities remain pivotal to Alex Neil's style of play.
His strength, pace and power ensure opposition defenders cannot switch off for a moment. His closing and hard work from the front set the tone for much of the Canaries' play.
There is no doubt Jerome must produce goals again to remain at the tip of City's attacking threat – but he is doing enough to keep Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper behind him in the pecking order for now.
The threat of a new forward joining the club looms ahead of the close of the transfer window, so he will need goals sooner rather than later. One against former club Stoke would be a good start on Saturday.
Even if he does return to the bench though, he could still play a major role for Neil as an impact player throughout this season.