Norwich City's new approach hints at exciting times ahead
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Norwich City's opening Premier League win of the new season was forged through the fearlessness of youth.
"It was an afternoon when Norwich’s collective efforts were imbued with a youthful energy that hints at the evolution most supporters crave alongside sustained membership of the Premier League."
The Canaries’ match-winning foray owed everything to the vibrant urgings of two young men at the very start of what most in these parts hope will be fruitful top flight careers.
Leroy Fer’s vision was matched by Nathan Redmond’s ferocious intent and instinctive strike that scorched the Carrow Road turf as it flew past Artur Boruc at his near post. Both in conception and execution it offered a tantalising glimpse of what Chris Hughton and his coaching staff could mould from this group of players. At times during an uplifting display against another of their ambitious rivals, Norwich’s play was laced with the same revelatory essence triggered by last season’s maiden Premier League success over Arsenal.
On that day Hughton melded the raw material at his disposal into a style and a willingness to resist that would produce the unbeaten league run which underpinned their route to safety. Bradley Johnson and Alex Tettey emerged as cornerstones in a defensive midfield axis that was residually effective for months at home and on the road.
Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turrner were paired in tandem for the first time against the Gunners in a successful coupling to bolster a backline that had exhibited worrying signs of frailty.
Wes Hoolahan was the creative link with Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington offering balance in attack and ballast in defence.
The parallels were strikingly obvious against the Saints. Fer roamed central midfield areas with the air of a man who had been operating in the Premier League all his life. Johnson’s voracious appetite for battle in pursuit of those hard yards which tip the balance in such evenly-contested encounters was amplified by Fer’s athleticism and his injection of dynamism to City’s forward motions. Bassong and Turner were reunited at the back after a summer fractured by surgery and the slow grind of rehabilitation. Steven Whittaker underlined why Russell Martin had to endure a watching brief with fresh evidence of a telepathic understanding alongside Snodgrass down City’s right flank.
And then there was Redmond. The England Under-21 starlet has much to learn but there are already positive signs of growth over these opening weeks of the new campaign.
The 19-year-old’s harassment of Calum Chambers verged on cruelty. One early dash inside and venomous hit flew a couple of yards wide; yet Southampton failed to heed the initial warning.
By the time Redmond slalomed his way to the vicinity of Southampton’s box again in the game’s defining act, Chambers had been forced to call in reinforcements, but James Ward-Prowse’s defensive instincts are not why the teenager has been talked about in the same hushed tones as Redmond at the vanguard of a new wave.
Redmond’s individuality and lack of experience will prompt frustrations. When you are capable of magical interludes, anything less casts a shadow but unquestionably City have a gem.
Fer is in the same bracket; a modern-day midfielder with limitless scope to his development. The challenge for Hughton and his backroom team is to create an environment for self-expression within the framework of a style of play which appears robust enough to incorporate a potent new dimension.
A Premier League win after the low blow of Hull was imperative even at this embryonic stage of the campaign; not to make up lost ground but to instil renewed belief Norwich harbour greater expectations.
The Canaries will continue to be a work in progress for the foreseeable future. Ricky van Wolfswinkel was too often an isolated reference point in a sea of red shirts when City ceded territory and Johan Elmander dropped deeper to aid a successful policy designed to frustrate and disrupt a fluid Southampton line-up sparked by the impressive Adam Lallana.
Mauricio Pochettino’s frankly absurd decision to withdraw his captain midway through the second period in favour of the temperamental Gaston Ramirez merely boosted the opposition’s cause. Lallana’s presence was a source of irritation, with his left-footed volley thudding against John Ruddy’s post prior to the interval and a shot batted away by Johnson that should have resulted in a visiting penalty kick.
Norwich could rightly point to Jose Fonte’s agricultural attempt to lever Snodgrass to the floor in stoppage time which similarly escaped detection from Howard Webb deep inside the Saints’ penalty box.
But this game deserved more than to be remembered for a plethora of contentious decisions. It was an afternoon when Norwich’s collective efforts were imbued with a youthful energy that hints at the evolution most supporters crave alongside sustained membership of the Premier League.