City report card: Dowell looks ready for starring role
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
He may have started only 12 league games, but that didn’t prevent Kieran Dowell from contributing three contenders for Norwich City’s official Goal of the Season shortlist.
After one of them, a quite brilliant free-kick that he powered into the top corner to earn a 1-0 win at Derby in April, Dowell joked he didn’t want the season to end.
The 23-year-old has already been seen on social media strutting his stuff with a skills coach back home in Liverpool since City’s title party came to an end, as he bids to keep hold of momentum over the summer ahead of his big Premier League opportunity.
Let’s take it back to September though.
Signed as he had entered the final 12 months of his contract at Everton, for an initial fee reportedly less than £2million with potential add-on fees to follow, the former England Under-21 international featured regularly during pre-season and scored on his debut.
That volley from the edge of the area had been the equaliser as a strange League Cup first round tie at Luton ended in a 3-1 defeat after a late flurry of goals, with the Canaries without 16 players due to international duty, injury and suspension.
With that 90 minutes in the tank and fresh from a positive loan spell when he helped Wigan steer clear of Championship trouble, with five goals in 13 games, Dowell earned a start in the league opener at Huddersfield.
With Todd Cantwell and Onel Hernandez either side of him in support of Teemu Pukki, he played 75 minutes before being replaced by eventual match-winner Adam Idah as City were made to work hard by an energetic Terriers team under new management.
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He retained the starting ‘number 10’ role for his Carrow Road debut but was left struggling just four minutes into an eventual 2-2 draw with Preston.
North End defender Ben Davies took the ball cleanly as he tackled Dowell on the edge of the box but landed awkwardly on the attacking midfielder’s left ankle. The new arrival played on for almost 20 minutes before dropping down to the turf to call for treatment and hobbling off, ending the day on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
Four days later and the bad news was confirmed; surgery was required on ankle ligament damage and the summer signing was facing three months on the sidelines.
A player that Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber had high hopes for was taken out of contention – and would be joined by plenty of teammates in the treatment room during the next couple of months.
Despite that, when Dowell returned slightly ahead of schedule in December, his new club was flying high at the top of the table.
His return came at the Madejski Stadium, impressing as a half-time replacement during a 2-1 win at Reading.
Lift-off? Well, not quite.
He was involved in the next 15 league games, with the only start being 67 minutes of the 1-0 loss at Watford on Boxing Day, with six of those being as an unused substitute and most being late cameos.
The FA Cup third round clash with Coventry had offered a seemingly ideal opportunity to get up to speed but minor surgery was needed to remove a screw from his ankle. He did start at Barnsley in the next round as Farke gave fit-again players some welcome minutes but that prompted a dreary 1-0 loss at Oakwell.
Ten days later and an appearance as a substitute nearly ended in disaster, losing possession in the dying seconds of the 0-0 draw at Millwall with Tim Krul out of his goal – and breathing a huge sigh of relief as Jed Wallace missed an open goal from long range.
Good things come to those who wait though.
Dowell finally got back on track with an encouraging cameo as City came from behind to win 2-1 at Sheffield Wednesday in mid-March and starting the final 10 games of the season would bring five goals and an assist as promotion and the title were wrapped up.
A thumping 25-yard strike at Forest was followed by setting up Kenny McLean’s goal in a 1-1 home draw with Blackburn.
Linking beautifully with Emi Buendia to score the fifth during the 7-0 thrashing of Huddersfield was followed by that sumptuous free-kick at Derby and an excellent brace as the title was sealed with a 4-1 win over Reading.
Which left Dowell with six goals and an assist from 26 games, 14 of which were starts. That very respectable productivity rate has City fans eager to see what his second season will bring.
With classy technique and an ability to glide past opponents, the hope is that we haven’t yet seen the best of a player with top-level potential.