Norwich City playing well but need to make it count

Cameron Jerome rues a missed chance during Norwich City's 1-1 draw with Stoke. Picture by Paul Chest

Cameron Jerome rues a missed chance during Norwich City's 1-1 draw with Stoke. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Three games into the Premier League season and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d never been away, we’re playing with a confidence and sense of enjoyment that many ‘established’ Premier League sides would love to replicate.

Stoke gave us a far more rigorous inspection than we experienced at Sunderland and their squad list contains a series of names that provoke envious nods of approval from opposing fans. As yet, they haven’t quite morphed into a team. There were flashes from them individually; Arnautovic is clearly a very good player and Shaqiri has undoubted quality but will need to learn to stay on his feet if he’s to succeed in the top flight.

Their passing game caused us some problems early and for once we found ourselves doing the chasing; that said, I thought we’d negotiated the awkward period when we fell behind to the simplest of set-pieces.

Those clamouring for defensive reinforcements will point to “yet another” sloppy goal going in and will feel that their case is strengthening each week. I still think that a first choice back four of Whittaker, Martin, Bassong and Olsson is good enough to survive in this league, however, a couple of injuries could have Alex Neil choosing from what might resemble Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. Whether Ryan Bennett is ready to finally step up and fulfil his potential has to remain a doubt, while Neil’s decision to loan out Turner last season speaks volumes and Wisdom is untested in our ranks. Further strengthening, even if just an improvement in cover, would be welcome.

At the other end, it’s a similar story – working hard, playing well but could still be better. We’ve scored in each of our three games but as yet a striker hasn’t found the net and we’ve squandered any number of decent opportunities. It would be folly to solely blame our profligacy for that. Indeed, we know Jerome has ‘scored a goal’, Butland was widely given Man of the Match following an outstanding display and generally, our attackers are playing well. There’s also nothing in the rules that says it has to be strikers that score, so if Russ wants to pop up with 20 this season...

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In all seriousness, it would be far more worrying if we were struggling to create the chances but the lack of conversion could come back to haunt us.

We’ve started this season at full-throttle. Performances full of energy, a snap to our passing and with passion, desire and ambition evident to all. I’m struggling to think of anyone performing below expectations; Bradley Johnson has found himself on the bench but with Brady, Mulumbu and Dorrans all signing this summer, he was never going to find his name on the team-sheet in permanent marker this season. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen Hoolahan in better form, Redmond continues to mature and impress and is the main reason I’d like the window to shut, while the balance provided by Dorrans, Howson and Tettey has been excellent.

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Strangely, that is the basis of the one niggly, nagging and annoyingly nauseating thought that I keep having. What about when we inevitably have a run of games where we don’t play well?

As good as we’ve been in the opening three fixtures, we’ve taken four points when a following wind and a referee without some form of visual impairment would see us on at least seven and possibly nine. How will a solitary Carrow Road point from Palace and Stoke read come the season’s end? Will we rue these opportunities?

Genuinely, I don’t think so.

Alex Neil hasn’t hinted at complacency or of allowing anybody to rest on their laurels. As long as he continues to demand the performance and work levels that he is currently obtaining, then I don’t see us getting rolled over and more importantly, I see us being difficult to beat both home and away.

It’s this unwavering faith that stops me “really” worrying even at this early stage.

Loads of attempts at goal, ‘keepers having “worldies” against us and a sense that we’ve been unlucky were all symptomatic of our demise a couple of seasons ago. A home defeat to Crystal Palace and a point against Stoke would have seen an unquestionable meltdown of the support. Every home game seemed like a “must win” because we were so poor on the road. It doesn’t feel like that now. There is a unanimity about the support, a feeling that we’re all in it together and that everyone trusts the gaffer implicitly. Everyone; the board, the players and the fans.

That good-feeling, faith and respect has never been more in evidence than when Alex took off Hoolahan to bring on Bradley Johnson with about 15 minutes left. Hoolahan had worked his little leprechaun socks off and was the standout footballer on the pitch. His withdrawal was met with the standing ovation it deserved and Johnno was roared onto the field.

Now if Hughton had made that substitution, let’s not go there. It was way too early for a Hughton change anyway.

Joking aside, the club feels far healthier than it did a couple of years ago, that has to bode well for the future. If we make a couple of signings in this next week, we might just surprise a few people. Underestimate us at your peril.

As a footnote; a friend and I were trying to determine which shirt number was Norwich’s “iconic” jersey. Liverpool and Man United revere the 7 and Newcastle famously the number 9. We’ve undoubtedly had some great players in any number of shirts but in the end we decided that, for consistency, it had to be our Number 1. Traditionally, we’ve always had fantastic ‘keepers and one such incumbent was Sandy Kennon. The tribute given to him by the Carrow Road crowd was emphatic and heartfelt. It was also beautifully contributed to by the Stoke City supporters.

RIP Sandy.

• Blog post written by Duncan Edwards

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