After consecutive 0-0 draws, in which City did well to get nil, yesterday’s five goal extravaganza was a bolt right out of the blue (as it were).
Another event-less 0-0, which many were predicting, would have been a step too far on what was possibly the bleakest, coldest Carrow Road experience I can remember, but luckily for everyone it was arguably the most enjoyable 90+ minutes of the season at home.
Typically, City made heavy weather of getting over the line but get over the line they did and on this occasion, there was more than just the brilliance of Angus Gunn and James Maddison for us blogger-types to mull over.
In fact, get this, there were several positives… some of them unexpected.
Key to making what was a slightly surreal afternoon an enjoyable one was that Reading came to play. They may be struggling and they may be hovering fairly close to the unmentionable zone but they did arrive with an intention of getting the ball down and passing it.
And with Jaap Stam’s men playing in a similar style to City, the faithful were spared the ‘get-in-their-faces’ approach that has all too often ended in an attritional Carrow Road stalemate. Add to that the relatively high defensive line deployed by the visitors and it made for the rarity of an open, end-to-end encounter.
An early goal helped too, and Mario Vrancic’s stooping far-post header from Grant Hanley’s flick-on set the tone; the Bosnian benefitting hugely from the boost of that goal for the rest of the afternoon.
What followed was actually pretty decent, and there’s no question the dual threat of a firing Josh Murphy and an ever-improving Onel Hernandez adds excitement to a formula that has all too often been low-key and dull. One wonders if indeed it is the presence of the all-action Cuban that has driven Josh to rediscover that ability of knocking it past his fullback and getting to the byline.
Whatever the reason, that Josh can now be seen knocking that ball into the grass behind his opponent, dropping his shoulder and then gliding past has to be a good thing – and was something badly missing in his mid-season slump.
The frustrations around his low-quality final ball, on occasions, and his tendency to get brushed aside a little too easily amidst the hurly-burly are not unreasonable but he’s no longer a ‘promising youngster’ and it could just be that these weaknesses in his game that will keep him at Norwich City rather than see him soar to the heights of Jacob.
Maybe it’s a trade-off – his searing pace and ability to leave opponents for dead versus the aforementioned downside – and one that we’ll have to live with while working on those areas of improvement. But for an hour yesterday, I thought he was very good.
Hernandez has added something new to the mix, and not just the fact we have finally have ourselves one of those stocky, low-centre-of-gravity types who is hellishly hard to knock off the ball. He’s clearly quick and strong but also has that ability to get supporters on the edge of their seats when faced one-on-one with his fullback. He’s exciting.
And in terms of his work rate and defensive diligence, it’s easy to see why Daniel Farke trusts Hernandez to do a job for the team; the very antithesis, in fact, of how Spurs loanee, Marcus Edwards is perceived by the head coach, even though his appearance on the bench yesterday did at least confirm that he exists.
The Cuban too suffers from that winger’s affliction of an inconsistent final ball but. again, if he had that last piece of the jigsaw perfected he’d probably have his sights set higher than a mid-table club in the second tier.
Hernandez’s high-energy style makes it tough to go the full 90+ at full throttle so there will be spells in games where he drifts out – it’s inevitable – but that he had the energy and intelligence to make the run that led to the cross that led to Maddison being up-ended for the pen was good to watch.
Dennis Sbreny, along with Hernandez, also enjoyed his most fruitful shift in the yellow and green, and there were signs that if we afford him the time to develop there is a good ‘number 9’ in there. Alas, when his big moment arrived he chocked – snatching at his golden chance to score midway through the second-half – but there was enough in his all-around game to suggest he has the capability to be the player we want him to be.
His first touch was pretty good, he held it up quite well and was able to bring others into the game; all components that go to make up a successful lone striker. The missing, rather important, element of scoring goals will hopefully come, and he’s definitely one who will benefit from a full Farke pre-season.
Ironically, the debate over the Maddison/Leitner short corner routines that caused such angst in the last two home games was rendered largely futile yesterday, with the first two goals coming directly from Maddison corners. I was in the ‘the chances of scoring from a corner are so slim, take a short one’ camp, which shows precisely how much I know.
Finally, couldn’t end without returning to Vrancic’s contribution. For one who was vilified over the first few months of the season – justifiably on occasions – he has slowly won over the doubters with some very accomplished, classy appearances. More often than not they have been cameos but yesterday he impacted on the game for the full 95, often through his quality range of passing but also for the ability to get a toe and nick back possession for City.
I was pilloried early in the season for using his “languid” style as mitigation for an apparent lack of appetite but I stand by it. His isn’t the all-action style of Hernandez or Harrison Reed – who was also excellent yesterday by the way – but in his understated, cultured way he has adapted his game to the unsophisticated ways of the Championships.
To say that Alex Tettey, Tom Trybull and Moritz Leitner were not missed yesterday is probably the best compliment we can give Messrs Vrancic and Reed. It won’t be a combo that works every game, but yesterday, in the frozen wastelands of NR1, it did.
So, a win, an enjoyable one, and let’s not use the fact that Reading were ordinary or City hit no great heights spoil the glow emitted by our first win in eight. We’ve bemoaned a lack of entertainment, let’s not twist the knife when there has actually been some.