Norwich City’s pre-season optimism was short-lived as Kenny Jackett’s Wolves chalked up a deserved win at Molineux. Opening day disappointments have become the norm for the Yellow Army and this season’s was to be no different.
In the end it took just a 64th minute goal from Dave Edwards to separate the sides but it could, probably should, have been more as City offered the travelling faithful fare that was all too familiar.
The optimists will point to the 60th minute sending-off of Martin Olsson as the game’s pivotal moment but, in truth, the Old Gold were better in most departments throughout.
Neil Adam’s sprung few surprises in his starting line-up and named an XI based on the one that faced OCG Nice and Celta Vigo in the final two friendlies of the close season.
Summer signing, Lewis Grabban was handed the lone striker role with the narrow midfield diamond comprising Bradley Johnson at its base, Wes Hoolahan at its apex and Andrew Surman and Elliott Bennett providing the width.
The only omission of note was that of Anthony Pilkington, who did not even make the City bench.
Typically it was the hosts who opened the game on the front foot and their high tempo and direct style asked questions of the City back-four early on. The bounce afforded by a championship winning promotion was evident in Wolves’ play and any rustiness was the preserve of the visitors who struggled to cope with their intensity and pressing.
The first shot across the City bows came as early as the first minute when the dangerous Bakary Sako hit a low, fizzing cross in from the Wolves left which was hit, first-time, over the bar by an unmarked Edwards.
Having survived the early onslaught Norwich did settle for a short spell and enjoyed some possession, albeit of the slow, laboured and fruitless variety. But any control of the game was short lived and as the half progressed, along with a Martin Olsson booking, they soon picked up some unhealthy and all too familiar habits.
When in possession City shifted the ball too slowly. Their passing was laboured, and lacked precision and zip. And, in truth, the home side looked to have a greater appetite for the battle.
As the half ended the visitors were hanging on and only poor quality in the final third and some timely interceptions from Russell Martin and Michael Turner prevented a half-time deficit for Team Adams to unravel.
As it transpired City did go into the interval goalless but it was Adams who had the more challenging team-talk. For Jackett the message would have been ‘more of the same’.
In fairness, the half time message did have an impact and the Canaries made a decent start to the second period, but not before the ever-dangerous Sako had fizzed a cross across the face of John Ruddy’s six-yard box.
Surman and Grabban were both to go close. The former, following some neat inter-play, saw his goal-bound shot blocked by Richard Stearman, and a minute later the ex-Bournemouth man found space in-behind the Wolves defence only for his angled shot to be saved by keeper, Carl Ikeme. It was to be City’s only shot on target.
Redmond was also to see the whites of Ikeme’s eyes but his shot was high, wide and ugly, and worse was to follow for City.
For once Olsson was found wanting in a foot race – unusual for the Swede and possibly the result of an interrupted pre-season – and as Wolves’ wide-man Rajiv van La Parra approached the City penalty box he was bundled over by the City full-back.
Referee Simon Hooper – who did City few favours all afternoon – had little option but to wave a second yellow at Olsson; an action that earned him a shove in the chest from City’s disgruntled left-back. Only time will tell if the Football League decide to look further into the matter.
The resultant free-kick was well saved by Ruddy but the Canaries’ relief was short-lived. Just four minutes after being reduced to ten men City fell behind to the game’s only goal.
Van La Parra was again prominent, and it was his curling right-wing cross that was met by a flying header from the unchallenged Edwards; the Wolves midfielder’s effort giving Ruddy no chance.
Alas, that was pretty much game over. Adams attempted to ring the changes and, with Hoolahan already sacrificed to make way for Javier Garrido at left-back, threw Alex Tettey and Kyle Lafferty into the fray and opted for a back-three.
But it was to no avail. City huffed and puffed, but it was insipid stuff that smacked of last season’s Premier League campaign. The Yellow Army typically roared the team forward but goalscoring opportunities were few and far between, even in the closing stages.
Wolves held on for the win and deservedly so. For City there will be better days ahead but the ghosts of last season still remain. The tempo was still ponderous, the passing was still poor and the quality in the final third was still missing.
The home fans sang: “Premier League? You’re having a laugh…”
On today’s evidence it was hard to disagree.