Norwich City beaten but far from outclassed
Chris Lakey Norwich City 2, Everton 4: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, is the sage advice. Which is perhaps why Paul Lambert was happy enough to consign the mistakes of Saturday to the memory bank, in the belief that they are now out of the system, never to reappear again.
Norwich City 2, Everton 4
Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today, is the sage advice.
Which is perhaps why Paul Lambert was happy enough to consign the mistakes of Saturday to the memory bank, in the belief that they are now out of the system, never to reappear again.
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Helped, of course, by the fact that City once again left their fans in optimistic mood for the challenges ahead courtesy of another quality performance against top-flight opponents.
John Ruddy's howler that let in Tim Cahill for Everton's opener on six minutes was from the Robert Green school of goalkeeping - coincidentally Everton's Tim Howard was witness to both aberrations this summer - while there were big question marks over the defending for goals two and four as well.
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Ruddy is unlikely to repeat his error - if that was discovered to be in his armoury then he wouldn't be a professional goalkeeper, would he? - and if he does he will find himself on a Danny Baker's Goalkeeping Gaffes DVD before the season's out.
What Lambert will be hoping is that the other lazy errors were also isolated incidents. If you're going to make a mistake, do it when it doesn't matter.
The shame of it is that City really did look the part for a lot of the time on Saturday. The passing, again, was crisp and neat and, most importantly, accurate. Andrew Surman is a good example of that: every pass wasn't only just to feet, it was to the exact sweet spot, where a team-mate doesn't need to touch it a couple of times to bring it under control, but where he can walk on to the pass.
Surman, David Fox and Andrew Crofts, with Wes Hoolahan in front of them, look to be the real strength of this side, the quartet who set the tempo and dictate the terms on which City perform. Chris Martin and Simeon Jackson benefit from their vision, and Hoolahan's ability to find the threaded pass that creates the opening. Martin scored twice against Newcastle a week earlier and had chances to repeat the feat against Everton, but was thwarted by a much better defence.
Jackson tried his luck from all angles and distances and while he never really came close - barring one that was blocked by Tony Hibbert -his time will come. Any unforgiving fans should remember he is new to the Championship. Anyone expecting instant results should think again. They should also remember that Lambert has proved he is an astute judge of a player. If he sees something in Jackson, rest assured, it's there.
Between them, the front six - and the addition of the magnificent seventh in Grant Holt, who came on for 18 minutes at the end and did enough to suggest that a team of wild horses will be forced into submission should they try and keep him out of Friday's starting lineup - look the real thing.
Hoolahan perhaps didn't do what it says on the tin the last time he played for City in the second tier, but Lambert appears to be giving him a similar role to the one he “created” for him last season. Surman, Fox and Crofts are all perfectly capable of doing things with the ball, but it gravitates towards Hoolahan who sits on the edge of the area, teases and coaxes opponents, finds a hole and then jumps through it.
If there is an area for concern for the casual, but committed, observer, then it's the defence. The full-backs are fine, but the centre-half pairing hasn't had the same chance to bed in. If you're going to make mistakes, then a Premier League side is going to expose them, as Ward and Nelson discovered.
After Ruddy let Cahill's shot slip through his fingers and his legs, City had to fight their way back into the game, which, to their credit, they did.
Chris Martin had a shot blocked by an Everton defence that wasn't always at its best, but Mikel Arteta, for whom the ball was like a magnet, curled one over to keep them honest.
Chris Martin had Howard scrambling from a free-kick which whistled just past his left-hand post, but the first-half highlight was arguably a magnificent 50-yard pass by Fox to Martin. Remember the time when that sort of pass was ambitious, and nothing else?
Martin almost latched on to a square ball into the area and when he missed it Crofts poked the ball wide - all encouraging stuff. They were all getting more of a look-in than Jermaine Beckford, whose efforts for Leeds last season weren't forgotten by the home support, who clearly felt disinclined to do anything but sneer, although his major contribution to the game was his running battle with Nelson.
But just as City settled into a rhythm, they committed error(s) number two: Ward tried to sell Beckford a dummy on City's left side, near the halfway line, but when he tried to clear it down the line, he managed only to cannon it off the Everton's man's legs. Arteta chipped it into the area where Nelson tried to chest it down to Ruddy with an Otsemobor-like touch - it was way too short and Cahill pounced, his first effort tipped into the air by the keeper, but his second headed into the net from close range.
Hoolahan prompted a Jackson run which Howard saw coming, Chris Martin flashed a left-footed snap-shot just wide and Crofts headed over, but City regrouped at the interval and within a minute of resumption were back in it.
Surman played Drury in on the left and the overlapping full-back put the ball on a plate for Crofts, who headed home, leaving half-time sub Yobo marking no-one in particular.
Everton boss David Moyes was out of his dugout as City camped on the edge of the visitors' area, Drury teeing up Hoolahan for a shot that was high and wide after a good series of passing.
City pressed forward and you sensed that the fighting attitude that saw them through so many hurdles last season hasn't been eroded through the change of personnel - evidence of that came when the advancing left-back Leighton Baines got forward and tried to slide the ball down the flank to Steven Pienaar, who found Hoolahan and Chris Martin all over him like a cheap coat to avert the danger.
The reward came on 58 minutes when the quick-thinking Drury provided his second assist of the day: Hibbert, restored to a familar right-back position, was asleep as Drury took a quick throw to Surman, who advanced into the area, left Yobo for dead and then curled in a gorgeous right-footer to level it. If there was proof needed of Surman's class, that was it.
Suffice to say, Everton have quality of their own, and within two minutes they were ahead again, Arteta playing the ball short to Pienaar just inside the area and with his back to goal and his little lay-off was perfect for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to smash it home. No mistakes there, just Premier League football.
The goal effectively killed off City's challenge, especially when the substitutions started kicking in, and 20 minutes from time Everton wrapped it up with something even better. Ward and Surman between them didn't clear Phil Neville's cross from the left, Cahill, six yards out, flicked the bouncing ball over the 6ft 4in frame of Ruddy and then volleyed it home from close range.
Any disappointment was assuaged by the introduction of Holt - the first sighting of the City skipper since the opening friendly at Dereham three weeks earlier. There were no signs of his thigh problem when he robbed Yobo and set up Hoolahan, who was foiled when Howard took the ball off his toes, nor when he stretched to meet Oli Johnson's or headed Surman's corner just wide.
That was a bonus for City on an afternoon when there were plenty. Everton were better than Newcastle the previous week, but as we are forever being told, pre-season attitudes are impossible to calculate. The Premier League schedule is a week behind the rest, although the difference between the top two divisions really ought to negate that. Everton fielded four players - Howard, Cahill, Pienaar and Yobo - who appeared in the World Cup.
In his post-match press conference, Moyes spoke of his summer transfer market activity and pointed out that he had got Beckford and Jan Mucha for free and paid only �1m for Maygaye Gueye. What City pay for players is “undisclosed”, for reasons best known to them, but you can bet a seven-figure sum isn't one they'd splash out unless they were convinced they were getting a world-beater.
Lambert has spent whatever money he's had wisely - but the real proof of that will be evident on Friday night, against Watford. We all remember only too well what happened this time last year: we were full of the joys of summer and then the walls came crashing down around our ears. This time you do sense something better is in the offing.
Norwich: Crofts (46), Surman (58)
Everton: Cahill (6, 38, 70), Bilyaletdinov (60)
t MAN OF THE MATCH
Grant Hegley (Hertfordshire)