Paddy Davitt: Leave the judgement for now on Sargent
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Teemu Pukki’s successor is not a label Josh Sargent needs to carry at Norwich City.
Daniel Farke, perhaps in a bid to highlight what a quality summer signing the US international forward was from Werder Bremen, inadvertently piled even more expectation on the young man’s shoulders in tipping him to inherit the crown.
Yet Pukki showed again in Dean Smith’s first game in charge he is a striker with so much still to offer at Premier League level, in a team configured to get the most out of his intelligent movement and predatory instincts.
Finland’s record goalscorer just needs to stay fit and healthy and he will remain the attacking spearhead this season under Smith.
Sargent is some way from the finished article. In time, he may well prove Farke right and step out of Pukki’s sizeable shadow at Carrow Road.
His career record, however, suggests he does not possess the same prolific strike rate, or maybe the capacity to plunder in the quantities Pukki has managed in a remarkable City career.
It may also suggest a more sympathetic assessment is better rather than dismissing him already as a poor buy.
It is uncharitable to even compare a 21-year-old with less than 100 senior league appearances under his belt to a player signed by Sevilla, Schalke, Celtic and Brondby before leaving a dominant impression on the Championship.
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Not to mention 15 Premier League goals, and counting, plus 100 caps for his country.
That fluffed chance to open his Premier League goal account in the goalless affair with Brighton felt like a defining moment for Sargent.
In much the same way talk of Norwich statistically struggling to overhaul Derby’s paltry record low points tally in the Premier League has now receded, on the back of two priceless wins, had he got off the mark that focus on his goal output would be far more measured.
But in a squad struggling for both goals and creativity his relative lack of either, allied to Farke’s public backing, merely ensured the jury remains out for some City fans on this particular piece of summer recruitment.
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Yet Smith had seen enough in two training sessions to trust the American with a match-influencing half-time introduction against Southampton.
The ineffective Todd Cantwell was replaced by Sargent’s high energy and athleticism, harnessed within an overall tactical shift that altered the course of a game which felt Southampton’s for the taking.
Kyle Walker-Peters went from the headline act to a peripheral figure down the Saints’ left. Admittedly that was not solely due to Sargent.
Max Aarons on one flank, and Brandon Williams on the other, were given clear instructions by Smith and Craig Shakespeare at the interval to engage much quicker, and more aggressively, on those big switches of play which caused so much discomfort to the hosts in the opening period.
But it was Sargent who set the tone. His work down that right flank injected drive and dynamism. Granted he was not signed as an auxiliary right midfielder, but for now he can be an effective tool.
Much in the way he eased some of the burden on Pukki when Farke deployed him in a similar part of the pitch against Watford. On that day it was City’s naivety and susceptibility to the counters that proved their undoing.
Smith needs to find a set up and the right personnel within it to ensure Norwich can build on that second half showing against the Saints in what feels a defining phase this side of Christmas.
If Sargent in a more withdrawn role is part of the equation then few would complain.
Particularly if Pukki remains in the goals as the ‘unbelievable’ asset Smith badged him, after his fourth of the season hauled Norwich level against Southampton.
Perhaps at this stage a narrower focus on Sargent’s own lack of goals does him or the Canaries few favours.
In the right setting, against the right opponent, he clearly has plenty to offer.