Norwich City report card: Lewis finds another level in Canaries development
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In our latest report card from Norwich City’s stunning 2018-19 season, MICHAEL BAILEY gives a nod to Jamal Lewis – A man who built so successfully on his debut season and in the process, became one of the EFL Championship’s best.
Jamal Lewis is a quietly impressive man - and his progress in his first full season of senior football matched those sentiments.
Some of Norwich City's success stories in Daniel Farke's first season at the helm were measured by how much money - necessary income - they raised that summer.
In Lewis' case, the real enjoyment now comes from him utilising the time following his Boxing Day 2018 full debut at Birmingham, while still a player here in Norfolk.
And boy, have the Canaries benefitted - just like Lewis.
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The former Luton academy youngster had a typical first foray into the men's game. He showed superb confidence, composure and talent when he first burst on to the scene. He scored that borderline miraculous late header in a dramatic FA Cup replay at Chelsea, became a full international with Northern Ireland - while also dealing with a few defensive mistakes, limited impact at the top end of the pitch and a general drop in performances compared to his initial breakthrough.
For the record, none of this is criticism. It is exactly what comes with promoting young, inexperienced players in a team that - let's not forget - was far from a well-oiled winning machine; albeit a bit closer than we maybe all suspected.
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It was always billed as a learning experience. He'd have banked even more of it without a knee injury that pre-season, sidelining him for months.
No doubt had James Maddison's own knee injury last summer prevented his £24m sale, Lewis would have been one of the players sold to make up for the sizeable shortfall.
All of which meant the key for Lewis heading into the 2018-19 campaign was taking his opening season, proving he could claw back more of his potential and in return, marking himself out as a real tool in Farke's armoury.
This time a pre-season knock was only minor, seeing him miss the opening two games of the Championship campaign before making his first appearance from the start - in a late defeat at Sheffield United.
The fact Farke threw Lewis straight in at the deep end proved how much faith City's German head coach had in his athletic 20-year-old left-back.
As did Lewis going on to miss out on Farke's starting XI just twice more in the league: the clashes with Derby and Brentford that spanned New Year, due to a minor knock.
It actually became clear very early on this season how Lewis had improved.
His demeanour was so much more confident and relaxed. He exuded calm, despite such a young head. And his use and protection of the ball was perhaps his most underrated asset.
Given he was so useful in taking the ball at pace from one end of the pitch to the other, and offering a significant amount of protection that allowed Onel Hernandez a further degree of freedom, it's almost a little unfair to point out Lewis' primary attacking stats.
Key passes, dribbles - both were behind a fair few City team-mates, including the excellent young full-back on the other flank.
Four assists was a good improvement on his previous campaign - and it arguably should have been more - while in terms of goals, Lewis was the only outfield player to make more than eight league appearances and not pocket at least one goal.
He had two supreme chances at Aston Villa on the final day. Hopefully he's saving it up for the Premier League opener in August.
Again, statistics only tell a portion of the story - and Jamal's is a hugely positive one.
No one made more appearances in 2018 for Norwich City than Lewis, who alongside Tim Krul and Emi Buendia were the only players to be involved in every league victory this season.
His occasional switching from left-back in a back four to the left side of a back three came in handy - other times, he was the one sacrificed. But you imagine playing both left-sided defensive roles - as well as left wing-back - will offer Farke welcome options come the top-flight rigours.
And primarily, he will have to improve again come next season - not just to sustain his personal development, but because January signing Philip Heise will be expecting to end his acclimatisation period once the players return for pre-season.
Lewis has done it before, and he most certainly can do it again. A left-back that has already scored at a Premier League ground and clearly relishes a challenge.
His place in the EFL Championship's team of the season alongside Teemu Pukki and Max Aarons almost went under the radar. There will be none of that if Jamal Lewis maintains his current trajectory into the Premier League.
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