Taming of the Wolves speaks volumes for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City may not have served up torrents of goals but this was as emphatic a Championship outing as Carrow Road had witnessed all season.
Wolves arrived bearing the tag of genuine promotion rivals in their white away shirts. They left raising the white flag, bar a brief uprising prior to the hour mark ruthlessly quelled by Lewis Grabban's close range strike. It was a contest in name only, the final meaningless minutes played out amidst a backdrop of almost resigned acceptance from Kenny Jackett's side.
This was a surrender to set against any in a sporting context, Roberto Duran's famous 'No Más' boxing epic with Sugar Ray Leonard or any number of English one-day cricket capitulations.
The root cause for such disparity between opponents who went into the game separated by one place and two points lay not just in the deficiencies or limitations of a club who had lost just once in their previous 12. It was in Norwich's surgical precision. Neil's tactical template out-flanked Jackett and his players implemented the strategy to perfection.
Plenty of criticism has been aimed in their direction during the more testing periods of a turbulent ride since August and that chastening opening weekend 1-0 defeat in the Black Country; but they deserve every plaudit going after this 90-minute shift.
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Brentford appears increasingly to have acted as an early watershed under the composed Scot.
Those damning charges delivered by Neil regarding his own players' lack of hunger and desire, their work-rate and in essence the lack of self-belief required to really mix it with the best in this division have been answered since.
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Blackpool and Charlton were navigated with the odd minor alarm at the Valley, but this was an afternoon on home soil that would reveal how far Norwich had come. Neil himself called it 'a defining moment'. In troubled times many felt the Canaries were incapable of handling such pressure and expectancy. Not because they lacked the craft or the quality to produce on demand but because they have been buffeted by too many adverse currents.
Against the Bees, Neil's frank assessment implied his team had lost too many of their individual skirmishes. Against Wolves, they came out on top in every department; none more so than Alex Tettey, who produced an exhibition of defensive screening in his deep-lying midfield role parked in front of the back four.
Tettey nullified Benik Afobe so completely it fractured the supply lines to Wolves' lone frontman Nouha Dicko. Jackett threw in the towel at the interval to spare the former Arsenal man further punishment, such was the Norwegian's dominance, in order to tweak his line-up in a concerted attempt to thwart City's enforcer.
Neil's attention to detail is rapidly emerging as one of the key character traits that accompanied him south from Hamilton. Norwich under his command appear to know what is coming and far more importantly how to combat it.
The Canaries, for a period earlier this season, seemed to lack alternative ideas when faced with a counter-attacking foe ready to cede territory and possession and profit from meagre forward incursions.
Norwich have faced the same conundrum now in their last three league games and prevailed.
Neil has armed this Norwich with a willingness to marry technical ability and a new-found appetite for hard graft. City hunt in packs when they do not have the ball and attack in numbers to support a rejuvenated Grabban who, perhaps above any other player in this current City squad, is a visible symbol of the transformation under way.
But there is something even more reassuring than five wins in seven under Neil or three clean sheets in four, which should, in all honesty, have been a full house bar a damaging eight-minute regression against the Addicks.
Put simply, every soundbite, every action so far from the new manager suggests there is no danger of any complacency infecting City's new-found upward mobility.
Norwich previously squandered a relative position of strength towards the top end of the Championship after recovering from that early Molineux setback.
Unquestionably, league rivals started to work out the Canaries to a degree, but there was also a lingering sense City were too good for the second tier; that they merely had to move through the gears to assert their superiority. Too many disappointments since helped dispel that notion and in the unlikely event any trace remains it will not be tolerated on Neil's watch.
The readiness to shuffle his resources on a case-by-case basis should underline to this Norwich squad there can be no slipping from the high watermark achieved against Wolves at Carrow Road.
The gruelling nature of the Championship makes it imperative City show the same assured level of control at both ends of the pitch to prevail in their next two difficult away league fixtures, before the small matter of an East Anglian derby return; and all against promotion rivals they must overcome between now and May.