While it may not quite have panned out as most of us had dreamt (mine bizarrely involved a Neil Adams hat-trick) it was a Carrow Road day a little different to the norm.
For a start we had the clappers – their first appearance since that celebratory Coventry game I believe – and, in fairness, they did add a certain something to the occasion. Whether artificial noise is the way ahead I’m not sure, but as a one-off they served their purpose well.
Archant demanded a cauldron and they just about got one…
The Club, in their own attempt to fire up the atmosphere, were handed a trump card in the form of the Under-18s, and even minus the clappers their pre-match ovation would have been of the rousing variety. As it happened the lads played their part in proceedings perfectly and were ably assisted by a trio of legends – Messrs Eadie, Dublin and Huckerby all still proving capable of playing a Carrow Road blinder.
Amidst the pre-match mayhem was a chunk of comedy gold with the attempted ‘clap-along’ to Queen’s We Will Rock You; I’m not expecting the lower River-End to be contacted by Simon Cowell’s people anytime soon if that’s their idea of being ‘tight and in sync’.
Very amusing though.
Given the atmosphere, it was imperative that the players started on the front foot, and they duly delivered; the tone set perfectly by Elliott Bennett’s two early long range efforts.
Although a goal wasn’t forthcoming in that frenzied opening it was telling that both full-backs frequently found themselves in forward positions – Javier Garrido firing a presentable chance into the grateful arms of Alex McCarthy.
Those who frequently question Chris Hughton’s pragmatic approach could have had few complaints yesterday with Garrido and Russell Martin both playing high up the pitch in support of two out-and-out wingers – all attempting to supply the Grant Holt/Kei Kamara combo who, for the first time, showed positive signs of working as a pair.
While both Holt and Kamara have a natural tendency to drift out wide to get involved, yesterday was notable for the number of times crosses came in with two possible targets in the box. There haven’t been too many occasions this sesason when I’ve been able to say that; Hughton’s penchant for playing the lone striker almost negating the option of ‘slinging’ in a cross hopeful that someone will get on the end of it.
As it happened of course the goals came from two fairly unlikely sources with the Bennett brothers carrying on the good work of the Murphys earlier in the week.
Ryan Bennett – the recipient of an indifferent ‘press’ since his part in the Luton debacle – gave us a tremendous 72 minute glimpse of the same youngster who so impressed at the back end of last season. With the ability to pass a pre-requisite of a top-level Premier League defender, his raking 50 yard crossfield pass to pick out Robert Snodgrass mid-way through the second half was right out of the top draw. Hopefully his goal, and all-round performance, will serve to put the Luton nightmare to bed once and for all and allow his City career to kick on as we’d all hoped.
Elliott Bennett too is another whose reputation has gone a little in reverse of late with a couple of indifferent performances, but his willingness and desire were there for all to see yesterday and – coupled with his blistering pace – he will also hopefully now benefit from the boost a goal provides.
Amongst several other good performances – Bradley Johnson again putting in a lung-bursting shift – was that of Kei Kamara. It therefore struck me as a tad odd that, off the back of his best performance in a yellow shirt, a big debate followed about his worthiness of a full-time contract.
While his goal return – that single effort against Everton – may be poo-pooed by the statisticians, here is a guy new to the Premier League and who is clearly improving game by game. Not only is he a fine athlete, he’s also shown himself to be technically decent and can play out wide as well as down the middle.
For a simpleton like me – and for a price tag of around say £1.5M – it looks a no-brainer. Unlike some previous non-goalscoring strikers we’ve seen here (David Strihavka, Antoine Sibierski etc) Kamara does look as if he has goals in his armoury. To judge him on that single effort seems a little harsh given the way the team has been set up and has performed in the second half of this season.
While none of us are privy to Hughton’s thoughts on the matter, if the Sierra Leonean is offered a deal it will be because he perceives him as someone who can score City some goals, not because he’s a really nice chap who puts a smile on people’s faces. Just how it should be.
In terms of Reading, it’s always a shame to see a similar side club head southwards, as they surely will now. Despite struggling to cope with City’s intensity at times they enjoyed decent spells of possession and more than played their part in an entertaining afternoon. Amongst a few good performances, Garath McClearly’s goal was no more than his afternoon’s work deserved. While it’s difficult to feel too much sympathy for anyone in blue and white hoops (you know who I’m talking about), they do have an excellent manager in Nigel Adkins who’ll look to bounce them back at the first attempt.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention referee Mike Dean, who chose the perfect time to remind us all that there are still some very good officials out there. Clearly more than happy to let the players remain the centre of attention, Mr Dean gave one of the best displays of refereeing the old place has witnessed for some time and therefore credit where it’s due.
So… still work to do, but just a couple of draws or a win should do it.
Let’s hope Pulis’ attempt to ‘stoke’ up a cauldron doesn’t involve clappers. Twice in two weeks would be a little too much.