It was like men against boys as Norwich City took control
There was a time when, in tribute to their team, the Barnsley fans used to sing: “It’s just like watching Brazil.”
Well, on Saturday they would have felt that they were doing so once again – except this time it was the opposition who were delivering a credible version of the type of football that the Samba Boys usually produce. City really were that good at Oakwell.
In the first half in particular it was case of men against boys, with the Canaries totally controlling the contest and exerting their authority on Mark Robins’ men to the extent that the home side barely got a look in.
Some of Norwich’s approach play was delicious. The Canaries moved the ball about the pitch with speed and accuracy, and at times the calibre of their one and two-touch passing enabled them to cut through the Barnsley defence like a hot knife through butter.
City started very brightly and with real attacking intent and, to be frank, they never looked back.
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With Wes Hoolahan playing further forward than normal and given free licence to roam anywhere he liked, and Grant Holt producing the kind of centre-forward display that gives opposition centre-backs sleepless nights, once the excellent Andrew Crofts headed City in front after yet another sweeping move the result was never for one moment in any doubt.
It was only ever going to be a question of how emphatic Norwich’s seventh away victory of the season was going to be.
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Norwich oozed class, authority and confidence, and demonstrated that they were back to their best.
Unsurprisingly, given how the first 45 minutes had panned out, the second half didn’t produce the same excitement as did the first.
City eased off the gas but still remained comfortably in control, and you always felt that if they had really needed to they could have cranked up the pressure at a stroke, whereas for their part Barnsley huffed and puffed as they tried to get any sort of foothold in the game.
But it was only a token gesture, really, because judging by the body language of their players and the reaction of their fans, neither truly believed that they would take anything from the game.
And even the staunchest Barnsley supporter would probably accept that City dealt comfortably with anything the home side could muster and that John Ruddy was never really in danger of not keeping a clean sheet.
It was that convincing – a real top-drawer performance from start to finish. And it has to go down as one of City’s best displays of the season.
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – ANDREW CROFTS: In a performance when every player on duty stepped up to the plate, it’s difficult to single out anyone in particular. Grant Holt was a menace to the Barnsley defence all afternoon and proved too strong, too determined and too good for his markers, while Wes Hoolahan also ran them ragged at times. But it has to be Crofts, who not only won virtually all his tackles and was part of a midfield unit that ran the game, but chipped in with a brace of goals in the process. His second was technically excellent, and reminiscent of that incredible Justin Fashanu goal against Liverpool on Match of the Day at Carrow Road in 1980 that was voted Goal of the Season.