Wide role could be pivotal to Murphy achieving consistency as landmark game approaches
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As Norwich City winger Josh Murphy closes on a career landmark, David Freezer assesses the progress of the academy product as a first-team threat after his fine equalising strike at Barnsley in midweek.
The legacy of the FA Youth Cup winners of 2013 looks likely to reach a landmark this weekend, if Josh Murphy features against Reading for the Canaries.
The 23-year-old winger is set to play his 100th game for City, less than five years since his memorable goal-scoring debut as an 18-year-old in the League Cup during Chris Hughton’s reign, inspiring a 3-2 comeback victory at Watford.
Murphy, and identical twin brother Jacob, had been key figures as Neil Adams’ under-18s brushed aside all before them in the Youth Cup in 2012-13 and it was Josh who was the first to get a chance to shine for the first team.
After a taste of Premier League and Championship action the London-born forward spent a brief spell on loan with Wigan before spending all of 2015-16 in the second tier with MK Dons, as Norwich returned to the top flight under Alex Neil.
It proved to be the making of him, with seven goals and eight assists for MK making Murphy a prime candidate to shine as the Canaries returned to the Championship for 2016-17.
Yet as the academy product lashed home an equaliser at Barnsley on Tuesday night to register his 18th City goal, the search for consistency continues, as a landmark 100th appearance approaches.
Murphy’s performance at Oakwell provided an intriguing insight into his development – and into how the speedy attacker views his progress.
In the first half he was largely as ineffective as Marley Watkins was as a central forward, although did continue to keep working hard and make runs.
It was a controlled but largely unadventurous 45 minutes from the Canaries, perhaps unsurprisingly after the chaos of Saturday’s 4-3 defeat at Hull which had prompted the return of three central defenders.
It was after Onel Hernandez was introduced for the weary Christoph Zimmermann – almost a stone lighter having missed two games through illness – in the 56th minute that Murphy sparked into life.
With a shape closer to a 4-1-4-1 formation, Murphy was able to settle back into the left wing position he is more familiar with, from where he led City’s U18s to Youth Cup glory and where he has played the majority of the 150 matches in his senior career.
All of a sudden the rapid wide man looked a different player, taking on his full-back, firing a fine shot from the edge of the box just beyond the far post and, of course, scoring the equaliser.
Timm Klose played James Husband down the left in the 71st minute and the left-back – making his first appearance of 2018 – crossed low to Murphy in the box. The hesitancy which has dogged Murphy recently was nowhere to be seen as a fine first touch opened up the shot and the former England U19 and U20 international lashed the ball high above keeper Adam Davies at the same end as more than 650 travelling City fans.
Initially it looked like Murphy was shaping up to repeat a similar celebration to that of his equaliser against the Tykes at Carrow Road in November, when he briefly cupped his ears to the Barclay, but quickly thought better of it. He barely cracked a smile but perhaps it was a sign of growing up?
Four months on and the inconsistency from which criticism had stemmed is still an issue but perhaps his second half efforts were a bid for a regular wide berth to help in his pursuit of those performance levels.
Nine goals, five of those coming in the league, suggest that Murphy has been influential. The frustration for supporters – and no doubt the player himself – emerges from the clear potential for the academy product to be capable of much more.
Should he finish this season with a flourish then he may still have done enough to tempt a Premier League club into attempting to complete his development – following in the footsteps of Jacob, who moved to Newcastle for £12million last summer.
Is Josh ready for it yet though? He has a contract until 2021 at Norwich and could play a pivotal role for Farke next season if he can find that longed for consistency.
Murphy may just want some reassurance that a wide berth is going to be his main focus for 2018-19 however, when it comes to weighing up his options with his agent this summer.
NCFC debut: Sept 24, 2013 v Watford (W3-2 – League Cup)
NCFC apps: 99 (51 as sub)
NCFC goals: 18
NCFC assists: 10
Careers apps: 150 (64 as sub)
Career goals: 25
Career assists: 18