The new Alex Neil regime racked up it’s most impressive performance to date as the Canaries beat fellow play-off rivals Wolves 2-0 to drive their way back into the top six.
It was City’s fifth win in seven games under the 33-year-old whose initial arrival was, generally, greeted with something of a raised eyebrow in Norfolk. To say the least.
But today not only did the Canaries move into a decent lead via goals from Bradley Johnson and Lewis Grabban, but as importantly they shut out the visitors at the other end. It was compelling in the level of comfort that Norwich displayed.
To a man they put in big shifts with Johnson and Alexander Tettey running midfield. Closed down and pressed high, Norwich out-played and out-fought Wolves. And in Neil they might just have found something of a managerial gem.
“We’ve given ourselves a good platform,” was the Scot’s post-match verdict, as all eyes started to look north again. This is the start of a big period in Norwich’s season culminating in the home derby clash with Ipswich.
Todays result and performance will have people sitting up and taking notice.
“If we perform like we did today there is no reason why we can’t win more games,” added the City chief. “We balanced defence and attack very well over the course of the full 90 minutes – and it was really pleasing against a high calibre of opposition.”
For this afternoon’s testing clash against a club that have long figured low on the club’s list of favourite Championship rivals, Neil opted to keep faith with his recent strike partnership of Grabban and Hooper, whilst at the back Martin Olsson’s slips of concentration a Charlton were not held against him as the Swede continued at left-back.
The return of Jonny Howson from his three-match suspension and Nathan Redmond’s compelling form away on the right have done much to keep the Canaries bobbing along in the right direction under the new manager and both figured prominently in the game’s opening exchanges as Norwich made the brighter start.
Whether they could again expect to be two goals to the good against a team of Wolves’ undoubted calibre is another matter; most City punters would settle for simply reversing the shoreline from the opening day of the season and the 1-0 defeat at Molineux.
The fact that Brentford appeared intent on parting company with their manager in the summer – if not before – merely served to give both sides an extra incentive to muscle their way into that play-off mix. Three points to either today would do wonders in that particular cause.
Cue Johnson and a 28th minute opener for the home side. Once again it was Redmond’s delivery helping the Canary cause, as his corner found the City midfielder heading home his eighth goal of the season. It was all that Norwich deserved. Wolves had yet to register a shot either on or off target as the Neil bandwagon continued to roll on.
With the unhappy Bees a goal down at Charlton, were both results to stay the same and the newly-arrived Scot would have ticked his first box in guiding the Canaries back into the top six.
Wolves did at least get one shot on target before the break as Dominic Iorfa tried his luck from distance. But given this was a game in which one goal could in all likelihood decide it, Neil and Co would be delighted with the act that at the break it was the home side that had said slender advantage.
With Carrow Road sniffing a potentially decisive victory should the pattern of the game repeat itself in the second period, so it was so far so good. Much would, inevitably, hinge on the next 45 minutes; could Cameron Jerome seal the deal with a Charlton-like party piece before the end?
Hooper and Grabban both gave the visitors something to think about straight after the interval as the Canaries tried to avoid Valley-like slips defensively that so riled their new boss.
With Wolves picking up the pace and starting to press with greater intent, Neil made his first change of the afternoon as new-boy Tony Andreu replaced Redmond.
It was an interesting moment; for the watching City faithful engrossed in the tight chess match unfolding in front of them, such moves are given the full microscopic treatment by the legions of armchair tacticians. Particularly those who still make the case for Wesley Hoolahan.
But Neil is fast proving his own man in that regard and on the final result will he be judged.
Cue Grabban and the killer second.
Bassong went from defensive rock to creative provider as he released Olsson and the Swede’s 67th minute cross was tailor-made for Grabban to convert. Carrow Road rose to greet a big, big goal; their celebrations powered by sheer relief as much as anything.
Thereafter it was all so much plain sailing with barely a defensive wobble in sight; a very quiet day at the office for City keeper John Ruddy.
Maybe life in the nPower Championship can be a breeze after all…