David Freezer: Encouraging signs from Cantwell in the number 14 have left City fans hungry for more
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There was a feeling around Carrow Road that Todd Cantwell had laid down a marker against Atalanta in midweek, that the creative talent had really shown a glimpse of what he was capable of.
The caveat always had to be added at this time of year that it's pre-season, as highlighted by a messy second half when both teams seemed to make more substitutions than completed passes.
For City to somehow end up losing 4-1 just wasn't reflective of the match overall - although it was a timely reminder of the ruthless finishing of top-level players from the Italians.
Yet the first half had felt like a proper game of football, played at real pace and with both sets of players looking fit and keen to impress. So from a Cantwell perspective, putting in that impressive 45 minutes against a Champions League team was certainly a positive step in his development.
Some of his early passing drew impressed applause and in the eighth minute the youngster used his body to protect the ball well and turn an Onel Hernandez cross to Emi Buendia, whose flick found Teemu Pukki, only for a perfectly timed tackle to deny the Finn as he pulled the trigger.
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There were a few groans as an attempted back-heel through to Sam Byram on the right didn't work out soon after and again as a misplaced pass forced Byram to concede a free-kick with alarm bells ringing - but then Cantwell sprung into life.
He showed bravery in a tackle on halfway to get Pukki away, only for Emi Buendia's left-footed effort to be saved. Barely a minute later he had the ball in the net after being found in space in the box nicely by Mo Leitner - who had started the attack with a perfect pass to Hernandez - and showing composure to draw the keeper and fire the ball into the bottom-right corner.
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It was a goal that Cantwell's bright pre-season efforts had deserved and all of a sudden a bit of swagger had returned, going close again after being teed up by Pukki in the 19th minute only to see his 25-yard shot deflect just over.
In the 24th minute he helped out defensively to collect the ball in his own half and set Jamal Lewis away on the left, before receiving the ball higher up the pitch and slipping Pukki into the left channel with a fine pass, only for the visiting keeper to win the race.
Six minutes later and he was setting the striker away on the right, then showing good strength to keep the attack alive as he switched to Lewis on the left, before a lovely back-heel on the edge of the box set up Leitner, only for the German to curl his effort well over.
All of a sudden Cantwell was looking the main man, dictating play in the final third, picking out Byram on the edge of the box in the 38th minute, who couldn't quite feed Pukki.
Four minutes later and Leitner again fed the 21-year-old, who slipped his striker into the right channel this time, only for the keeper to get down well to Pukki's shot.
After Timm kKose's error late in the half it meant that good work was only enough for 1-1 at half-time but the supply line continued after the break, Leitner finding Cantwell and the midfielder threading Pukki into left channel, only for his low shot to again be well read and saved - before being replaced in the 63rd minute as the substitution party began.
Marco Stiepermann will probably reclaim that central role as chief support to Pukki against Toulouse this afternoon. Both the German and City's star striker are among the players with the fewest pre-season minutes under their belts, with approximately 200 minutes each so far.
Given that relationship was pivotal to last season's title success and that the physical strength of the rampaging German midfielder was so important in the opposition's half, it would seem highly likely that getting both players significant game-time will be a priority ahead of the big opening night at Anfield.
Dereham's finest will be well aware of that though, he's still just 21 and has his best years ahead. It puts him in the classic position of a young player having to be ready for his chance when it arrives.
He did that to an extent last season before falling away from regular action during the second half of the campaign, but it was largely in the wider roles. Cantwell quite rightly pointed out in his post-match interview on Tuesday that playing a wide role is 'no hardship' under Daniel Farke, as those on the 'wings' are quite often cutting inside and causing trouble centrally - and indeed it was often Stiepermann who ended up dropping into wide positions, bamboozling the opposition.
Yet now we've seen that Cantwell can thrive with that added bit of space from playing in the pocket of space behind the lead striker, the space that Wes Hoolahan occupied for so long, wearing that number 14 for 10 years.
The academy product also lost the ball on a few occasions but that comes with attacking risks. It's a lesson that took quite a while for plenty of City fans to learn with Hoolahan: that risk and reward go hand in hand.
Creativity, attacking urgency, sharp passing and a hunger to receive the ball, it may have just been pre-season, but the Atalanta game has also left Canaries supporters eager to see if a local lad can grab the Premier League opportunities ahead of him.