Phoney war is over - Norwich City ready to go

Mark Armstrong Norwich City 2, Everton 4: Pre-season games aren't meant to be like this. They are supposed to be tepid contests where fans more often than not walk away from the stadium asking why exactly they spent a fair proportion of their hard-earned watching a glorified training session.

Mark Armstrong

Norwich City 2, Everton 4

Pre-season games aren't meant to be like this.

They are supposed to be tepid contests where fans more often than not walk away from the stadium asking why exactly they spent a fair proportion of their hard-earned watching a glorified training session.

However, none of the 13,437 in attendance were asking themselves that as they siphoned away from Carrow Road on Saturday after watching the Canaries more than hold their own against a Premiership side that will undoubtedly finish in the top eight once again next season. We are forever being told by managers that 'you can't read anything into pre-season' as a reason to explain away a loss or dampen down expectations after a fine win.

Perhaps City boss Paul Lambert won't have been too disappointed to see his side taste defeat for the first time in their pre-season campaign but City's performance did nothing to quell the supporters' expectations.

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For long periods Norwich matched their more illustrious visitors, who fielded a strong side despite the absence of several key men including Ayegbeni Yakubu, Phil Jagielka, Marouane Fellaini and Leon Osman.

Admittedly, there was some questionable goalkeeping and defending from the Norwich perspective but don't read too much into John Ruddy's howler when he let Tim Cahill's tame shot through his legs in the sixth minute.

He has shown himself in pre-season to be a safe pair of hands and more than capable of filling Fraser Forster's boots. He is unlikely to make another mistake like that when City's campaign starts for real.

Michael Nelson enjoyed a fantastic battle with Jermaine Beckford all afternoon, which the former Hartlepool man had the better of and, but for an error that let Cahill in for his second, would have been a real contender for man-of-the-match.

Whether a Championship striker would be quite so lethal in punishing a defensive mistake is open to question.

Cahill may take the plaudits for his hat-trick but it was Mikel Arteta who was the class act on display. Quite how he doesn't get anywhere near the Spanish squad is absolutely frightening because if he had an English passport he would be one of the first names on Fabio Capello's team-sheet.

That being said, Norwich were far from outclassed in the middle of the park with Andrew Crofts in particular catching the eye with an all action display that bodes well for the new season.

Former Everton manager Joe Royle coined the phrase 'dogs of war' during his time at Goodison Park and the term can be equally applied applied to Crofts.

There is more to him than just that however as he showed just after half-time when his lung-bursting run into the Everton penalty area culminated in the former Brighton man meeting Adam Drury's perfect cross to plunge a downward header past Tim Howard to make it 2-1.

Crofts' partnership with David Fox in central midfield worked very well with the summer signing from Colchester continuing to show he has the kind of eye for a pass that was lost when Sammy Clingan departed for Coventry City last year.

On several occasions he released both Chris Martin and Simeon Jackson in behind the Everton back four although neither could take advantage thanks in no small part to the powers of recovery of Sylvain Distin. What the Frenchman lacks in positional sense he more than makes up for in speed.

He was kept busy by Jackson in particular although the fact that the striker is yet to open his account in a City shirt appears to be preying on his mind.

While his movement across the front line was impressive, his decision-making when in possession will improve once he gets that first goal.

On too many occasions the 23-year-old decided to shoot from improbable distances when team-mates were better placed.

You could not level the same accusation at Andrew Surman in the 58th minute when Drury's quick thinking from a throw-in released the midfielder. After jinking inside Joseph Yobo, he proceeded to unleash a smart shot into the bottom corner with his less favoured right foot and make it 2-2.

The Canaries' fans optimism was short-lived however with the ex-Wolves man's goal merely jolting the Toffees into action.

Just two minutes later substitute Diniyar Bilyaletdinov finished off a fine move involving Arteta and Steven Pienaar with a curling shot from the edge of the area that ended up in the top corner. Everton then got a grip on the game by keeping a hold of the ball and the Canaries struggled to carve out chances until the introduction of Grant Holt from the substitutes' bench.

The big striker dispelled any fears that he would not be fit enough to play his part in Norwich's Championship opener on Friday with a lively display.

When he harried Yobo into a mistake, Wes Hoolahan was in on goal but Howard did well to force the winger wide and the chance was gone.

By then however any chance of salvaging a draw had gone when that man Cahill took advantage of more defensive uncertainty.

Surman and Elliott Ward failed to deal with Phil Neville's cross from the left and the Australian international showed all his class by lifting the ball over Ruddy before volleying home from close range.

That marked the end of the scoring and the end of Norwich's pre-season. But if they perform as they did against Everton in the Championship next season then English football's second tier should hold no fears for them.

t Norwich City (4-4-2): Ruddy 5, R Martin 7, Ward 5 (Askou 72, 6), Nelson 7, Drury 8 (Lappin 66, 6), Fox 7 (Gill 66, 6), Crofts 8, Surman 7 (McNamee 81, 6), Hoolahan 7, C Martin 7 (Johnson 81, 6), Jackson 6 (Holt 72, 7). Subs not used: Steer, Hughes, Francomb, Dawkin, Tudur Jones.

t Goals: Crofts 46, Surman 58.

t Everton (4-3-2-1): Howard 7, Hibbert 7, Baines 7 (Saha 62, 6), Arteta 7, Distin 7, Beckford 6 (Rodwell 73, 6), Cahill 8 (Wallace 81), Neville 7, Gueye 6 (Bilyaletdinov 46, 7), Pienaar 6 (Vaughan 73, 6), Coleman 6 (Yobo 46, 5). Subs not used: Turner, Silva, Mustafi.

t Goals: Cahill 6, 38, 70 Bilyaletdinov 60.

t Referee: Grant Hegley (Hertfordshire)

t Attendance: 13,437