Paddy Davitt verdict: Look beyond the red mist to a bright new dawn at Norwich City
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Never mind the players, Norwich City’s fans will need some stamina to last the pace if this frenetic Championship opener at Fulham is any guide.
Two fully-committed sides treated those inside Craven Cottage to a high tempo, high intensity duel that rarely eased off the throttle. There was brief lulls before Fulham would surge forward again looking to expose the space either channel of a Norwich backline who were left too exposed. But City carried plenty of promise themselves in attacking thrusts.
If Marley Watkins had shown the same clinical intent as his thunderous goal against Brighton the previous weekend then Daniel Farke may have been celebrating a famous win by the Thames. Watkins was by no means alone in that regard. Yanic Wildschut underlined comprehensively why he is better going forward in that wing back role than reversing into his own penalty area. James Maddison and Mario Vrancic both had sights of David Button’s goal, and then there was a strong penalty shout when Russell Martin’s hit struck Denis Odoi on his outstretched arm as he turned his back inside the Fulham penalty area.
Farke was convinced, Slavisa Jokanovic less so. Although the Serbian’s post-match verdict appeared to be fuelled more by a sense of burning injustice at City’s late fightback and his team’s inability to convert any number of dangerous forays into enemy territory. And then, of course, there was Nelson Oliveira; perhaps the most potent weapon in Norwich’s armoury.
Wes Hoolahan’s perfectly-lofted pass was a thing of beauty but Oliveira’s cool touch on his chest and then calm slot past the advancing Button was an exquisite accompaniment. What followed in the immediate aftermath may now have taken on a life of its own, as the bare-chested goalscorer surged towards Farke brandishing the name on the back of his shirt. The message was hardly likely to be lost in translation. Oliveira wanted to start at Craven Cottage. Farke, as he reasonably outlined once the maelstrom abated, felt a new look team full of young players needed Jerome’s experience and soothing presence before Oliveira could profit against a wilting defence in the final stages. Oliveira himself, in a more rational moment following those hazy seconds beyond his equalising elation, would accept the premise.
The touchline embrace from his head coach was rejected in favour of continuing a personal protest before Josh Murphy wisely ushered him back to the field of play. It was raw, it was unedited and perfectly defused by the German. Farke is astute enough to realise his man-management skills will be absolutely crucial in moulding a squad and fostering a new philosophy. Lighting the touchpaper under Oliveira may prove the favoured method to extract all that undoubted talent and power from the Portuguese hitman. This is a long, arduous campaign and there will be plenty of opportunity and plenty of minutes for both Oliveira and Jerome to justify Farke’s billing as two of the best operators in the second tier.
This is only the start. And Oliveira’s late intervention in salvaging a point from a game in all probability the Norwich of last season would have capitulated, will be the abiding legacy, not the brief fallout between player and coach.
Farke wants to build a fighting spirit in the face of adversity. This was an emphatic statement of intent. There is plenty of work ahead, and that was illustrated at Craven Cottage in the most frenetic moments, but we knew that before a ball was kicked.
There is a realism now that must linger this season, in relation to the scale of change and the direction of travel, but in the white hot heat of battle it is difficult to detach such reasoned logic from the unfolding action.
Fulham, however, look a more than useful Championship barometer. Not solely on the cohesive manner of their opening shift but given they are much further down the development path. Jokanovic could call on 13 of the players who were involved in the losing play-off semi-final, second leg tie at Reading in May.
It would have been one more if first choice keeper Marcus Bettinelli had been fit. Contrast that with the seismic change in Norfolk.
But when the dust settled and the shirt had gone back on it was honours even. Fulham’s players trooped dejectedly away at the final whistle. City’s had a spring in their step as they saluted the travelling support in brilliant sunshine. Optimism is rife.