New City chief Alex Neil got to witness both the beauty and the beast this afternoon as the Canaries came all too close to squandering a 3-0 half-time lead against visiting Cardiff City.
Goals from Gary Hooper, the restored Kyle Lafferty and the in-form Cameron Jerome had give Neil a dream start to his Carrow Road managerial career – only for a second-half nightmare to unfold as two goals in the space of four minutes turned a previously one-sided contest back on its head again.
Norwich would hold on as the manager rang the changes before the end. The result kept City seventh as the leading pack – bar Derby – all won.
And it kept Jerome and Hooper in amongst the goals. For one half of the contest, at least.
“At 3-0 at half-time we should have seen the game out – and been professional in the second-half,” said Neil, afterwards.
He speaks well, in fairness. And called it as it was. A 60-minute performance that turned on slip-shod defending at the heart of that City back line.
“I thought for the first 60 minutes we were excellent, but once we conceded that first goal you could see some of the nerves creeping in.
“And that was disappointing,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk. “I don’t think defensively we did well enough on two occasions. And it cost us two goals.
“Plus as the game wore on and the players got tired so some of their decision-making let us down at times. But this is only the start. I’ve only been in with the players three days in terms of full days training. And if I can get more of those first 60 minutes, then I’ll be really pleased.”
As for whether he would be getting more players in before the January transfer window closes, it was the stock mid-January response.
“We are working really hard to see if we can make things happen, but as you know these transfers only usually happen in the last few days of the transfer window.”
If today’s line-up was the first that owed much to the thinking of the new manager, then there was much of interest.
Gary O’Neil’s steadying influence in the latter stages of last weekend’s win at Bournemouth – coupled to Alexander Tettey’s injury – saw him gain a start and a chance that he took with both hands, while club skipper Russell Martin found himself back at right-back to accommodate the return of Carlos Cuellar.
Lafferty was another beneficiary as he returned to City’s first XI, while former Falkirk boy wonder Conor McGrandles has every reason to be delighted by Neil’s deep knowledge of the Scottish football scene.
The £1 million teenager found himself back on the bench alongside the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Lewis Grabban and Steven Whittaker; how far McGrandles moves up the pecking order following City’s managerial switch is just one of a clutch of intriguing sub-plots to Neil’s shock arrival at the helm of the Norfolk club.
The whole Sebastien Bassong saga is another one. Neil will have more food for thought there after today’s frailties.
Buoyed by that win over the pace-setting Cherries, Norwich started brightly enough with Hooper and Jerome both gaining an early sight of goal. The two would get an even better look in the 15th minute when Hooper’s close range header off Jerome’s cross gave City a deserved lead.
For the visitors their lone effort of any note would come via Peter Whittingham with a decent effort from distance that gave an early test for Canary keeper John Ruddy. Otherwise the new ‘Team Neil’ was getting off to a Carrow Road flier.
Entertainment at either came thick and fast at either end of the pitch on the 25th minute when first Lafferty drove Norwich’s second home only for the returning Cuellar to concede a penalty moments after the restart.
Ruddy’s save from Whittingham’s subsequent spot-kick merely furthered the impression that the newly-arrived Neil might have a little bit about him. Certainly Carrow Road would warm to the man if this proved to be standard home fare.
It was game over by the interval when Jerome grabbed his 14th goal of the season; the 28-year-old’s fifth in his last six Canary outings.
Good-bye and goodnight, Cardiff City. Job done. All by half-time.
But, no, of course it wasn’t job done. Brains out of gear for four minutes on the hour mark and, courtesy of double-quick strikes by first Alex Revell and then substitute Kadeem Harris, Norwich and Neil had their hands full again.
Hoolahan got the call to replace Hooper; Josh Murphy for Lafferty. Fresh legs and fresh thinking were delivered by the manager but for a tricky time the momentum was gone as Norwich clung on and Cardiff sniffed an unlikely point.
Wesley would sweep one wide; Bradley Johnson would fire just off target as the Canaries finally found their feet again. And, indeed, hung on to the three points through six minutes of added-on time.
Neil was for two for two results-wise. More importantly, he was now a whole lot wiser as to what this current squad of players can, and cannot, do.