Melissa Rudd: Mario Vrancic showed he could be a big part of Norwich City's future
PUBLISHED: 20:32 18 March 2018
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If ever a crowd needed to see goals to warm them up, Saturday was it.
Given Norwich’s lukewarm home record this season and inability to muster a goal in the last 120 minutes at Carrow Road, that was never a given despite Reading having only won two league games since mid December.
The attendance may have just exceeded 25,000 in terms of tickets sold, but the number of empty seats around the stadium suggested more than a few season ticket holders decided to stay at home rather than risk braving the cold for what may have been another turgid display.
Just short of a year ago, Jaap Stam’s men arrived for this fixture fourth in the table and were 6-0 down by half-time. It didn’t quite reach those heights for City this time, but with the score 3-1 at the interval it’s the closest Norwich have looked to reproducing that kind of performance on the same turf since.
The headline from Mario Vrancic’s pre-match press conference last week was his rallying cry for the players to “deliver entertainment to the fans.” Fitting then that it was his header that opened proceedings so early, quashing any fears of a third successive 0-0 for the home faithful.
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Vrancic has his critics this season with Daniel Farke’s summer recruit struggling to hold down a place in midfield.
Perhaps fans have been quick to write him off in part due to the fact that he has rather big shoes to fill in replacing Jonny Howson, and his style is certainly different to the latter.
He isn’t a player who will drive forward with the ball, as attempts to play him out wide earlier in the season told.
Yet playing in a deeper central role behind James Maddison, Vrancic was able to demonstrate his full range of passing in the first half especially as he time and again picked out Josh Murphy. It was an encouraging display from someone who may have a crucial part to play next season if both Maddison and Alex Tettey leave the club as predicted.
Murphy marked his 100th appearance for the club by putting in one of his most impressive displays of the campaign.
Supporters have clearly been frustrated by the winger’s inconsistency this season with his decision making and in particular his final ball a constant talking point.
Saturday though he was able to use his pace to great effect, something he’s not managed too often in recent months. It looked like he was given the freedom to hug the byline and had the confidence to take on his man at every opportunity.
At this point in his career though that’s something City supporters should be witnessing on a much more regular basis and it still feels like the 23-year-old hasn’t yet made the most of his attributes in a Norwich City shirt.
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Maddison’s stock meanwhile has risen with each passing week. His converted penalty which turned out to be the difference means that Norwich would be 16 points worse off without his 13 Championship goals, and that’s without factoring in seven assists. In terms of league places, City would be perilously teetering above the relegation zone without his priceless goal tally.
Such hypothetical scenarios are of course just that, but with a list of potential suitors that have grown even since January, it shows just how big a Maddison-shaped hole in the squad would be should he leave for bigger and better things in the summer.
A defensive lapse meant that the second half was far from comfortable protecting just a one goal lead, and in truth Reading looked like the relegation threatened side that their position in the table suggests.
However, it would be harsh to criticise a Norwich performance in which they finally managed to get the job done on home soil, where they have failed on so many other occasions against similarly low ranked sides.