City report card: Hernandez will be fired up after Premier League frustrations
Norwich City will have a fired up Onel Hernandez in their ranks when they return to Championship battle.
The winger endured a frustrating season, both in terms of injury and performance on the pitch, yet he was one of the few players who could hold on to optimism as relegation was confirmed.
Hernandez beamed with pride as he became the first Cuban to not only play in the Premier League but to score in the most watched football league in the world. He also became a father for the first time - but suffered the upsetting blow of seeing the famous catalogue discontinued by his beloved retail outlet of choice, Argos.
That kind of fun spirit on social media, his excited smile and honesty in interviews has seen the Arminia Bielefeld youth product taken to the hearts of Canaries fans. Yet he knew he was so close to achieving more this season.
So often his trickery and pace caused defenders to get in a muddle in the Premier League, just as they had in the Championship, but the step up in quality required to make some magic happen in the final third didn’t quite materialise.
This is a player, let’s not forget, who contributed eight goals and 10 assists during 40 games as Daniel Farke steered City to their title success in the second tier in 2018-19.
From an intriguing but relatively quiet first six months after he was signed from Eintracht Braunschweig in January 2018, speaking limited English and joining a squad meandering in mid-table, Hernandez flourished to become an integral player.
He wrote his name into Carrow Road folklore when coming off the bench and leaving Nottingham Forest shell-shocked with two goals as City roared back to somehow draw 3-3 on the Boxing Day of that year.
He equalised twice at Birmingham, fired Norwich ahead within two minutes on derby day, scored the winner at Boro during a stunning eight-game winning streak - and he did it all with a smile that said he loved playing in yellow and green.
The 27-year-old wasn’t perfect, of course. Like many wingers with electric pace, picking out a cross, choosing the right pass or when to pull the trigger can make him as frustrating as he is exciting.
However, his excitement about the Premier League chance he had earned was quickly snatched away. A 20-minute cameo at Liverpool on the opening night, with the score already at 4-1 to the eventual champions, was followed by cruel luck.
Slipping on the stairs at home saw him tear cartilage in one of his knees, leading to knee surgery, with Farke describing it at the time as a “big blow” because “we needed his pace”.
That misfortune led to an absence of seven games before returning in mid-October, slightly sooner than had been expected, and it didn’t take long for his first goal of the season to arrive.
In just his second appearance since returning Hernandez was introduced at half-time with City losing 2-0 to Manchester United - thanks to two Tim Krul penalty saves - and finding some consolation in the 88th minute to make the final score 3-1, nicking possession from Scott McTominay, charging into the box, squeezing between two defenders and firing low past David De Gea.
It meant little in the big scheme of things but the former Germany Under-20 international celebrated passionately with the Carrow Road crowd, as he finally got his season up and running.
The following weekend it was a race against time to make the game at Bournemouth, with his daughter born shortly before 9pm the night before the game, but he couldn’t prevent a disappointing 2-0 loss as he banked his first 90 minutes of the campaign.
Hernandez was back in the thick of the action and making the left wing his, playing all of a 2-0 win at Everton, then winning the ball back ahead of Teemu Pukki’s opener and teeing up Todd Cantwell for City’s second during a 2-2 home draw with Arsenal.
Yet as the Canaries struggled to turn better performances into points, the wide man found himself restricted to appearances as a substitute and started just three of the next 12 league games - despite scoring at Preston and helping to secure victory at Burnley in the FA Cup.
Then it was back on the operating table for more knee surgery in February, which would effectively have finished his season were it not for the enforced three-month break.
His pace and dynamism at least provided some bright moments during a miserable 10-game losing streak after the resumption, with his speed and determination setting up Emi Buendia’s goal at Watford.
He also looked to have taken an early lead at Manchester City on the final day, cutting in from the left in trademark fashion and catching Ederson out with a low shot from 20 yards - only for VAR to correctly rule that he had started his run just too early as Marco Stiepermann triggered an attack.
There was little Hernandez could do about a horrible slide back to the Championship but there’s plenty he can do to help earn another crack at the Premier League.