Nelson Oliveira and Cameron Jerome offer strong options in front of goal for Norwich City
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After a campaign featuring plenty of goals despite the disappointment of falling away from the promotion race, David Freezer assesses Norwich City's forward options ahead of next season's fresh start
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is probably an apt starting point when assessing Norwich City’s attacking options, yet there is room for improvement.
The Canaries head into this summer with two clear attacking front-runners in Cameron Jerome and Nelson Oliveira, who finished the campaign with a return of 28 goals in 71 games in all competitions between them.
That healthy return leaves sporting director Stuart Webber without too much to worry about up front, as he moulds the City squad in a new image alongside the incoming head coach.
Only champions Newcastle and play-off qualifiers Fulham matched City’s return of 85 goals in 46 league matches – an average of almost two goals per games.
On top of that, the class of 2016-17 broke a club record, despite finishing eighth in the final standings. The 55 goals scored in the 23 games at Carrow Road was not only six more than any other team in the division but better than any Norwich squad has managed in the second tier in the club’s history.
Jerome and Oliveira played a major part in those impressive statistics and look fine options to start next season with.
Jerome’s 16 goals took his overall tally for Norwich to 40 goals in 121 matches. The powerful forward will turn 31 in August but still retains the speed to frighten Championship defenders.
Despite a mixed reception when he was signed by Neil Adams in August 2014, the former Stoke, Birmingham and Cardiff striker has served the Canaries well and is under contract for another two seasons, with the club retaining the option of a further year.
In 2015-16 Jerome had to contend with the might of expensive loan signing Dieumerci Mbokani and managed just three goals in the Premier League.
He has proved himself once again in the second tier but was joined by strong competition in the shape of Portuguese international Oliveira.
The 25-year-old’s late arrival in the summer transfer window saw the former Nottingham Forest loanee eased into action by Alex Neil – a little too slowly for some – and not start a league game until November following his first goal in the EFL Cup fourth round elimination at Leeds.
While the 2-1 loss at QPR was not a memorable debut, Oliveira soon hit his stride and seven goals in seven games – including some spectacular strikes – saw the skilful forward quickly becoming a fans’ favourite.
A stupid red card for retaliation in the embarrassing loss to Rotherham in January brought a three-game suspension and a foot injury also brought a six-game absence.
While Jerome admirably weighed in with five goals in that spell, City failed to win any of those games without Oliveira, adding to the growing feeling that the best performances this season have tallied with the former Benfica man leading the attack.
While opinion may well differ on that preference, the duo offer two strong options to build from, to work in tandem with the attacking midfield talent provided by the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Alex Pritchard and the Murphy twins.
The enigma that is Kyle Lafferty is finally being shifted after failing to reproduce the form that has made him a national hero in Northern Ireland, weighing in with two goals in 16 games, although admittedly 14 of those came from the bench.
Which leaves the other option as academy product Carlton Morris. The strapping 21-year-old finished the season on loan at relegation-bound Rotherham, having scored eight goals in 15 games for City’s U23s. Eight appearances for the Millers followed a delayed start to the loan due to a hamstring injury but the FA Youth Cup winner was unable to get his first goal at Championship level.
Morris extended his contract until 2020 and so far has nine goals in 59 senior appearances from his loan spells, having also spent time with Hamilton, York and Oxford, and looks likely to have chances to impress at the front end of next season.
New chief Webber has already admitted that forward areas are not his pressing concern, saying earlier this week: “We were joint top scorers in the division so we did a lot of things right but we have to fiddle around what didn’t work.”
However, if Morris is to push Oliveira and Jerome for a place in the team he is going to have to hit the ground running, as Webber added: “I look in the forward areas and think maybe one more in that part of the pitch who is different to what we already have.”
If Webber can find a player more in the poacher mould, in the style of a player such as Newcastle star Dwight Gayle, then City are certainly looking well prepared for another good season in front of goal.