Cobh Ramblers 0, Norwich City 5: Daniel Farke guides his Canaries to comfortable opening night win
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Cobh’s compact St Colman’s Park tucked in a picturesque corner of southern Ireland on a sun-kissed summer’s evening is a world away from the cut and thrust of Championship combat.
The opposition was game, but limited, the pitch less than conducive to the flowing football Daniel Farke wants to bring to Norwich City.
There was a sprinkling of new blood in a starting XI that featured the towering Christophe Zimmermann and Mario Vrancic. Harrison Reed watched on from the stands after sealing a season-long loan move from Southampton. Marley Watkins had to bide his time before a second half bow.
It felt like new beginnings. James Maddison, Josh Murphy and Harry Toffolo brought youth and vibrant endeavour. Wes Hoolahan the stardust back in the land of his birth and Nelson Oliveira perhaps tellingly preferred to Cameron Jerome for this opening stroll.
Vrancic needed all of five minutes to underline his quality. A dipping, swerving corner was flicked on at the near post and Alex Tettey bundled home from inside the six yard box. In truth, the ball appeared to hit the Norwegian rather fortuitously but it was the perfect opening salvo.
Tettey may have a crucial role in this new-look Norwich; an industrious, hard-working, disciplined pivot to the flair players around him. The speed Farke demanded his men switch the play was a marked feature. Possession for possession’s sake will not cut it in the Championship. Alex Neil was castigated for a lack of flexibility and an almost zealous devotion to his one-dimensional philosophy. The tactical tweaks in the opening period at St Colman’s Park saw a 4-3-3 become a 4-1-4-1 with relative ease. That ability to react and to adapt, that collective football intelligence on the pitch, was all too often absent under the rigid Scot.
Farke’s City must be able to pass sides off the park in the second tier and scrap with them when the occasion dictates.
Zimmermann and Klose certainly look the part but the Swiss international was found wanting too often when the Championship dictated punch as much as panache.
Cobh’s limitations with the ball were evident. This was always going to be a fitness work out; a practical after nearly two weeks of theory at Colney and their exclusive Irish training base at Fota Island.
City’s comfortable first hit out was only the start. There will be more changes to personnel before the Canaries’ emerge at Craven Cottage on August 5. Yanic Wildschut will not be City’s right full-back against the Cottagers.
Alan Irvine, remember him, insisted those under his command were on trial during an extended interim spell. The new head coach and sporting director Stuart Webber would be watching, listening and forming opinions. The same maxim still holds true. Perhaps that is the negative to such routine friendlies. It took 25 minutes for Cobh’s Matthew Whelan to threaten a strike on Remi Matthews’ goal. The decibel level amongst the excitable home fans rose in unison, but it was a rare incursion into enemy territory.
Vrancic and Tettey were the prominent actors in the absence of Graham Dorrans and Jonny Howson. The Bosnian international unleashed a rising shot on that sweet left foot that just cleared Michal Sadys’ bar.
Oliveira adjusted his target to cut inside and whip a low finish past Sadys before Vrancic was rewarded with a cool, composed close range slot as City moved through the gears.
Farke remained upright and motionless in his technical area. There is already an emerging sense the German is a hard man to please. He would surely have appreciated the quality of Maddison’s free kick that brought a fourth via the back of Sadys after his effort clipped the top of the bar and the flailing Cobh keeper.
These are pivotal weeks ahead for the Coventry-bred attacker. Fresh from a new deal he knows he needs to impress to stand any chance of dislodging both Hoolahan and Alex Pritchard when the real action commences. Underlined by his sublime fifth goal to seal the victory. But the same applies to every one of his team mates. This was an encouraging opening statement.
• Cobh Ramblers (starting XI): Sadys, O’Riordan, McSweeney, McCarthy, Lowth, O’Donnell, Donnellan, Murphy, Abbott, Whelan, Christopher.
• Norwich City (first half): Matthews, Wildschut, Klose, Zimmermann, Toffolo, Maddison, Tettey, Vrancic, Josh Murphy, Hoolahan, Oliveira.
• Norwich City (second half): Jones, Pinto, Klose, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis, Watkins, Naismith, Pritchard, Morris, Jerome.
• Goals: Tettey (5), Oliveira (26), Vrancic (28), Maddison (34), Pritchard (82)
• Referee: Anthony Buttimer
• Attendance: 814