Rust and a lack of sharpness hinder Dowell's first City start since injury
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The mouths of Norwich City supporters would have been salivating when the team news dropped an hour prior to kick-off with Kieran Dowell joining Emi Buendia and Todd Cantwell behind Teemu Pukki in attack against Watford.
The Everton academy graduate arrived with much excitement after impressing City chief Daniel Farke whilst on loan at Nottingham Forest and was in excellent form for Wigan Athletic in the second half of last season despite their financial demise behind the scenes.
Dowell's Canaries career hadn't even taken off before it was abruptly halted by an ankle injury suffered against Preston North End in September. It would go on to sideline him for virtually three months.
His cameo against Reading earlier this month offered a window into the talent he possesses. He combined excellently with Cantwell in particular and helped them manage the second half period to secure the win at the Madejski Stadium.
That performance from the 23-year-old felt like a precursor to a fruitful spell following his return from injury - this fixture against Watford proved to be a bump in the road.
Despite their excellence against Reading, both Dowell and Cantwell were removed after 63 minutes to facilitate a change of formation to a 3-5-2 that did help City get more of a grip of the fixture as they sought for an equaliser.
This was largely a sporadic performance from Dowell.
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Mario Vrancic, who replaced him, played half the amount of minutes of Dowell and managed to have more touches and a greater influence than the former Everton man. The Bosnian completed more passes and created two chances.
It was the performance of a player still finding his rhythm and sharpness after a major setback whilst still adapting to a new club. That task has been made more frustrating given he hasn't been able to display his talents and grow on the pitch as City have found their feet in the division.
Dowell's use of the ball was wasteful, the key to gaining confidence as a player in an attacking position is how efficient you can be with it. Buendia and Cantwell were also under par, that contributed to a profligate offensive performance. Watford also deserve credit for their defensive performance that limited the licence those creators require to flourish.
The 23-year-old was restricted to potshots from range, but his success will be dependant on how effective he can be in possession. This was a performance full of rust, and that is to be expected given the length of time he has been out injured.
There were positive moments within the display, however.
Early on, Dowell displayed his willingness to defend by intercepting a crucial cutback from Ismalia Sarr that would have seen Tom Cleverley presented with a shot from outside the area.
There was a glimpse of his ability on 34 minutes when he exchanged passes smartly with Kenny McLean to create space down the left. That constructed a crossing opportunity, he found Cantwell who volleyed wide.
City's number 10 position is one that has caused uncertainty all season.
No player is really yet to grasp the mantle and make that position their own. Marco Stiepermann has been plagued by injuries and has struggled to replicate the levels of performance seen two years previous.
Vrancic has displayed flashes of quality but looks more comfortable operating in a deeper position when City have more possession.
Dowell could be the solution to remedy a position that the Canaries have struggled with continuity in for a whole year. The potential is there for all to see, now it just about fitness and sharpness.
Managing Dowell's workload and easing him back into the action will be pivotal to extracting his obvious quality at this level. Technical quality is a key ingredient to how Farke wants his side to apply themselves on matches.
If City can get Dowell to a level of fluency and sharpness, then it's clear they will possess a real talent at this level. This was an off day, but in the context of his recovery and getting back to match speed, it could be one that helps light the fire within his stomach.
RATING: 5 out of 10
VERDICT: A wasteful performance on the ball, some poor decision making as well but in the context of his recovery, this will prove to be a useful step back towards full fitness for the 23-year-old. That trio behind the striker is key to how City play and it's hard not to see Dowell in there in the long-term.