Six things we learned from Norwich City’s fun in the sun against Reading
PUBLISHED: 11:00 10 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:40 11 April 2017
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As the latest loop in the Norwich City roller-coaster leaves fans wondering what could have been, David Freezer assesses what was learned during the thrashing of Reading.
1 – This squad was capable of promotion
Reading were fortunate not to be hit for double figures at Carrow Road on Saturday, as the Royals bore the brunt of some pent up frustration from a talent-packed Norwich side.
We’ve heard it all season from various Canaries figures and every opposition camp: the current City squad should be pushing for an immediate return to the Premier League.
It was that belief, mixed with the subsequent disappointment of falling away from the promotion race, which led to accusations and admissions of arrogance.
Yet on Saturday, when the pressure was off and the sun was shining, City’s disoriented group found some steady ground and reminded everyone in the Championship of what they are capable of.
It’s no surprise that steady ground was Carrow Road.
On home soil the Canaries are now unbeaten in nine games and have scored more goals (48 in 20 games) than any other team in the division, four more than leaders Brighton.
2 - City slicker with Nelson at the helm
Cameron Jerome deserves a great deal of credit for the way he battled to keep the goals flowing in the absence of Nelson Oliveira but it is the Portuguese striker who seems to bring the best out of City.
Jerome’s eight goals in 11 games meant the loss of Oliveira to a three-game ban and then a foot injury was not felt as much as it might have been.
It doesn’t seem a coincidence that the last home game the 25-year-old started, before Saturday’s 7-1 success, was the 5-1 thrashing of Nottingham Forest.
His style works smoothly with the skills of Wes Hoolahan and Alex Pritchard but his work rate has also improved, as his efforts in keeping the ball alive after a corner demonstrated before his shot led to Russell Martin making it 4-0.
Jerome is a fine weapon in reserve though.
The hearts of the Reading defenders must have sunk when they saw him coming on at 6-1.
3 - Pritchard is now a certain starter
When interviewing an elated Russell Martin after this victory the City skipper described Alex Pritchard as ‘potentially the best player in the league’. On this showing it’s hard to disagree.
Vying for a starting place with club legend Wes Hoolahan was never going to be easy for last summer’s £8million arrival.
However, after an up and down season, the 23-year-old is showing why he is so a highly rated.
The quickly-taken volley for his first goal was sublime and his second strike left Ali Al-Habsi rooted to the spot.
Interim head coach Alan Irvine has started Pritchard in all five of his matches in charge and Canaries fans roared their appreciation when this appearance finished in the 80th minute.
The passion of celebration and swagger of general play suggest the playmaker is feeling at home. Now he must find consistency and the confidence to dictate play away from home, if he is to confirm himself as Hoolahan’s successor.
4 – Fresh clarity has helped City’s players
I’m sure new sporting director Stuart Webber wouldn’t claim any responsibility for influencing this superb triumph but his mere presence seemed to play a part.
The 33-year-old has only just met the players and doesn’t get involved on the training pitches or in the dressing room. His arrival has changed the narrative though.
Rather than moaning about what should have been, Webber’s appointment is a clear signal that the City board are building for a brighter future, allowing thoughts to turn to what might be instead.
The man himself said on Friday that the players weren’t on trial, as he knew them all well due to their profile in the game.
Alan Irvine and Russell Martin were happy to use the words ‘on trial’ as motivation for the squad before and after the game though.
What Webber will bring to the party, we must wait to see, but at least he has turned up on time.
5 – Wes isn’t finished just yet
One of the six changes made to the City starting XI was the return of the club’s longest-serving player Wes Hoolahan.
Adding another two goals to his Canaries CV saw him reach the landmark of 50 goals, in his 315th game.
While he started and finished a nice move for his first goal, the Irishman’s second was, unfittingly, amongst the scrappiest of his half century. The 34-year-old had everyone on their feet applauding his efforts when he and Nelson Oliveira were replaced with four minutes remaining.
Stuart Webber may well be allowed free rein to reshape this City squad but Hoolahan will surely be off limits.
The playmaker will be talked of as some kind of mythical figure when the current Canaries generation bore their grandchildren with tales of the past.
It will not just be sentiment that dictates he gets to remain for his testimonial season though – Hoolahan can still bamboozle any defence at this level.
6 - If you can’t enjoy a 7-1 win, don’t bother
There were a fair few moans still flying about after City’s demolition job.
Some were annoyed that Russell Martin cupped his ears towards his detractors when celebrating his goal, some that this performance had turned up when the pressure was off, others that a play-off place was written off too early when not replacing Alex Neil immediately.
As far as Martin goes: if you can’t take it, don’t give it. Martin has done a lot for City and deserves more respect.
The other two complaints I can sympathise with more but after a season of disappointment, I can’t quite be bothered to feel either passionately.
This squad isn’t ready for the Premier League even if they had stumbled there somehow.
To the best of my memory, I’ve never seen seven goals in one half of a match, certainly not at Carrow Road, in glorious sunshine. Life is too short not to enjoy the good times.
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