Norwich City Report Card: Flying winger Hernandez could prove a real bargain
PUBLISHED: 15:53 31 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:53 31 May 2018
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Onel Hernandez was starting to make a big impact at Norwich City before injury struck. David Freezer assesses the Cuban winger’s prospects for next season in the latest of our summer report cards.
The Carrow Road faithful rose to their feet, ready to roar their appreciation of a new hero, but Onel Hernandez couldn’t quite take his chance.
Introduced with just four minutes remaining of City’s home clash with Middlesbrough, the winger was soon able to put the accelerator to the floor and show Canaries fans the pace they had been promised.
The January signing from Eintracht Braunschweig, for a reported £1.7million, was played clean through by Moritz Leitner with Daniel Farke’s team already heading towards a 1-0 victory.
Boro were cut open and Hernandez was given the chance to put the icing on the cake – but couldn’t quite grasp his big moment, with a poor touch taking him slightly wide before firing a low effort beyond the far post.
Had the flying Cuban taken that chance, a new Canaries hero would have emerged on debut. As it turned out, the 25-year-old couldn’t take his chance and that was largely how his first few months as a City player would continue.
Late cameos during draws against Derby, Ipswich and champions-elect Wolves followed, as Farke continued to ease another of his German imports into the Championship challenge.
Finally a first start came at home to lowly Bolton in late February, when City dominated but missed a host of chances in a 0-0 draw, with Hernandez enthusiastic but not quite on the same wavelength as his new team-mates.
The same result against Forest 10 days later was almost a carbon copy, although a fine run and back-heel from the stocky attacker would have been the talk of the stadium had James Maddison managed to keep his shot a few inches lower during the second half.
Much like City’s transitional season under their new head coach, Hernandez was showing all the right intentions and hinting at better to come, but was struggling to put in a complete performance.
Another start followed at Hull and the former Wolfsburg man finally put down a marker to show he had arrived in English football, unfortunately it was rather overshadowed in a dramatic 4-3 defeat though.
He teed up Maddison to fire the Canaries in front on Humberside before using his pace to win the penalty from which Maddison made it 3-1 shortly before the break. Let’s not go back over the chaos which followed in the second half but it’s safe to say, it wasn’t Hernandez’s fault that the visitors ended up losing.
That implosion saw Farke return to a 3-4-3 formation for the trip to Barnsley just three days later, with the speedy winger one of those on the bench as the German shuffled his pack.
Yet that didn’t stop his Canaries influence continue its upward trajectory, coming on for the unwell Christoph Zimmermann 10 minutes into the second half and helping to spark a comeback with his direct running as Farke utilised Hernandez and Murphy as out-and-out wingers, with the latter grabbing a deserved equaliser that night at Oakwell.
The January arrival simply had to be in the starting line-up against Reading back at Carrow Road the following weekend and again dovetailed with Murphy well in a slick 3-2 win over Reading which should have been far more comprehensive.
With two proper wingers supporting target man Dennis Srbeny the Canaries finally looked to have found a system which balanced defence and attack – but this was not to be City’s season.
A twang of the wide-man’s hamstring robbed Farke of his attacking asset for the next five games. He returned with late cameos during the 1-1 draw at Preston and 2-1 home win over Leeds, before starting the nightmare 5-1 loss at Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the campaign.
As with so many of our end-of-season report cards, injury proved a major disruption for Hernandez and Farke, preventing reasons for encouragement becoming genuine excitement for the future.
With a full pre-season and a few further months of acclimatising to English life and football culture, the winger has all the attributes to become a fan favourite if he can hit the ground running in 2018/19.
With a contract until 2021, plus the option of a further 12 months, Hernandez has the opportunity to make a serious impact at Carrow Road and become one of those exciting players who send a buzz around the stadium when they receive the ball.
If he can rediscover the form which was building before his injury quickly then a fee south of £2m could well start to look the bargain that City sporting director Stuart Webber has been searching for in Germany.
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