Brutal Norwich City expose the Watford gap
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The most impressive facet of Norwich City’s first Championship win of the season was the arrogance to respond when challenged.
"Wolves was a painful false start. Watford needs to be more than a false dawn."
Anything less than a victory against a Watford side reduced to 10 men by the reckless behaviour of Joel Ekstrand inside the opening five minutes would have been unacceptable for Neil Adams, his players and the large swathes of home support who rightly demand better than they have been served up in recent times.
City delivered. They did what they had to do, in stark contrast to their inability to shape their own destiny last season.
They accepted the responsibility and the opportunity afforded them and engineered three surgical incisions fit to grace any stage.
But leading 1-0 just after the interval the Hornets opted to go for broke. Beppe Sannino withdrew the more disciplined promptings from central midfield of Lewis McGugan and introduced a wild card in Lloyd Dyer. That pace and directness to try and lend some genuine support to the likes of Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra crystalised in a superb opportunity to draw the disadvantaged Hornets level when he burst clear, but John Ruddy coolly batted aside his angled strike during the one moment of real alarm all afternoon for the England keeper.
Within five minutes, Lewis Grabban’s deflected looping strike had extended Norwich’s lead. Within another couple, Alex Tettey had unleashed another unerringly accurate effort and the game was finished. City were the right side of a scoreline more reflective of their dominance and territorial hegemony.
But it was that key phase that framed this victory. Around the same time the previous weekend at Molineux, they were denied on three occasions in close proximity before Martin Olsson’s red card and Dave Edwards’ glancing header condemned them to an opening Championship defeat.
The contrast was self-evident. Norwich looked far more composed, far more clinical. Adams restored Tettey to his starting plans and the Norwegian’s muscular dynamism helped create a bridgehead in the centre of the park that released Johnson to roam forward and showcase the technical ability many feel is missing from his skillset.
Kyle Lafferty earned a start after his cameo in the Black Country and underlined his long-term value to the cause; patrolling that left flank with vigour and embracing a workload that will surely endear him to the locals.
Ekstrand’s rashness tilted the game firmly in Norwich’s favour, but there was a ruthlessness and a hard edge to this City line-up that was missing at Wolves.
Sannino was adamant there would have been a different outcome if the visitors had maintained parity in personnel. Yet given the balance to Norwich’s play, the protection afforded the backline to deal with the potential danger of Deeney and Vydra, it is difficult to share the Italian’s conviction.
Norwich on this evidence would have had too much in reserve; too much nous and too much class to eventually prevail. What they lacked at Wolves was the intensity and the endeavour encapsulated in Lafferty’s first competitive home outing for his new club.
City’s decision-making at times underlined the relative comfort of the exercise once Ekstrand had departed. Yet there was also a commendable degree of patience and a willingness to let the sheer weight of pressure tell.
Once victory was secured around the hour mark, Norwich spurned numerous opportunities to increase the lead. That will have irked Adams.
It was a statement of intent that could have been even more emphatic. Norwich need to stamp their brand on this division in these formative weeks and a beating or two at Carrow Road can only foster such an aim.
Opponents need to arrive in Norfolk under no illusions at the scale of the task ahead. The brutal nature of Norwich’s put-down after Dyer’s spurned chance on the counter was an encouraging sight. City’s response was dismissive. Heurelho Gomes was heavily criticised for the manner of the concessions, but there was a wonderful artistry and sense of improvisation from the hosts which you sense Adams and his coaching staff are striving to foster.
His job is to give those players the best environment to express their obvious talent; to harness the individuality of a Wes Hoolahan or a Nathan Redmond within the framework of a solid shape that means Norwich will be respected wherever they go in the Championship.
Unbeaten Blackburn may provide a far more accurate barometer to gauge the stirrings of early momentum at Carrow Road tomorrow night. Rovers no longer look a club toiling in the post-Premier League wilderness. They appear to be heading in the right direction under an unassuming coach and a collection of talented players. The parallels with City are obvious.
Much of the focus and the attention may settle on an upcoming derby against an old foe, but Norwich need to be no less bullish, no less certain in their approach to prevail against Gary Bowyer’s side. Wolves was a painful false start. Watford needs to be more than a false dawn.