City favourite Dion Dublin paid tribute to a very special pre-season atmosphere at Carrow Road last night – and kept his fingers firmly crossed that that might be the sign of seasons to come.
To attract 23,000 punters to a nigh-on meaningless game in the second week of the school holidays is no mean feat; nor is it to generate the kind of feeling in the stands that Norwich's second-half revival prompted.
There is interest and enthusiasm afoot; there is a real sense of a new beginning; of a brand new Canary outfit about to go to work. Turning such passion and hope into points and performances on the pitch is now the big challenge for Peter Grant and his rebuilt team.
There is also the small matter of most Premiership sides being able to throw some star-dust about the place – in West Ham's case led by the ex-City trio of Dean Ashton, Robert Green and Craig Bellamy.
“I wasn't surprised that we got an attendance like today,” said Dublin, as he reflected on last night's 2-1 home defeat by the Hammers in the first of this week's two, final dress rehearsals.
“West Ham have come to town; very attractive outfit to watch – as they showed in the first-half when I thought we were a little taken aback and we got a little bit of a lesson in the first 45 minutes,” said the veteran City striker, in his usual honest manner.
“At least, I thought sat on the bench. And then I thought we turned it round second-half.
“We knew we had to step it up a little bit – and we did. And I didn't think there was a massive gulf in the second-half. First-half I think there was; second-half I think there wasn't.”
The fact that Norwich were still in the contest come the break owed much, if not everything, to a sparkling performance from new City No1 David Marshall who pulled off three, fabulous stops to deny Bobby Zamora twice and once Lee Bowyer.
The instinctive, one-handed palm up and away to deny Bowyer was right out of the top drawer – as the Barclay immediately acknowledged.
“Does David Marshall deserve all the headlines? Gosh, yes, ” was Dublin's reaction.
“Though I thought he should have held the first one… But I thought he was absolutely outstanding. Without him making the saves he made, we could have been three or four-nil down in the first-half. Without a doubt. So, yes, he deserves the headlines.”
Marshall, of course, is one of eight new faces brought into the club this summer by Grant. It would stretch a point to say Dublin made it nine – even if he did sign a new, one-year deal when most expected te 38-year-old to be wandering off into the Midlands sunset after his ten-month stay in Norfolk last season.
He was certainly given a warm reception when he made his own second-half appearance last night – something befitting a player who took the runners-up spot in the club's Player of the Year poll despite such a relatively short spell in the building.
“I feel good – I feel ready to go,” said Dublin, after something like the 22nd pre-season of his long and illustrious football career.
“You always ask me the same question – and I'll always tell you the same answer. I feel great; ready to go; the manager's got decisions to make. And I'll be fit and ready to go if called upon.”
Certainly after the break with both Chris Brown and Dublin in the mix, the Hammers found themselves under rather more physical pressure than before; both are more than happy with the rough and tumble of the English game. They know the beast.
For Czech striker David Strihavka, his cultural education needs to continue.
“David's got to get used to the game,” said Dublin, still able to demonstrate just how winning a header in front of a tracking centre-half is done.
“He's a big, strong lad – and it's a big, strong, physical game. And I think he'll adjust very, very quickly.
“He's started to change his game in training and you can see he's got quality from a mile off. He's quite quick and he'll do well for us.”
He just needs to sharpen up one or two elbows. He clearly has all the technique anyone needs at this level.
“Yes – he's a classic continental player. But I think he's got more to his game. He's just got to dig deep, look long and hard in his locker and I think he'll find a few more bits in there that could help us.”
Strihavka apart, what has Dublin made of all the comings and goings? Do the Canaries head for Deepdale in ruder health number and quality-wise than when the one-time Manchester United and Aston Villa star arrived last autumn in virtually the last managerial act of Nigel Worthington's reign?
“Am I heartened? Yes. It's great for the manager that he's got a headache. It's fantastic.
“He's got, what? Five centre-forwards – if you count me in there, six centre-forwards; he's got four centre-halves; he's got 85 midfield players… But what a great position to be in for the manager. And of quality as well.”
Which is just as well, it seems.
“I think we've let a lot of quality go which I'm disappointed about. We've let our main backbone go, I think – or part of our main backbone go,” added Dublin, with Robert Earnshaw and Dickson Etuhu clearly in his thoughts.
“But he's brought in decent quality as well and whether they can fill the shoes of what's been left vacant, time will tell.”
All eyes now turn to Friday night's game against Vitesse – a different game again to the Hammers clash. A final, fine tuning exercise?
“Yes it is. I think so. I think we've got the quality in the squad but it's just getting used to the game; getting used to the personnel.”