Alex Neil’s re-born Canaries proved that last weekend’s comfortable success over fellow play-off rivals Wolves was no fluke as they despatched Watford this afternoon with similar ease.
Two goals from the in-form Lewis Grabban and one from the restored Cameron Jerome gave City a 3-0 win at Vicarage Road – the kind of result that has the rest of the nPower Championship sitting up and taking note.
The name Alex Neil won’t be followed by the word ‘Who?’ for too much longer.
The three, big points on their travels lifted the Norfolk club into fifth and with both Ipswich and Middlesbrough losing at home and Bournemouth missing out at Brentford, so Norwich look ever more the team of the moment.
And in Neil they appear to have landed someone who could, indeed, be the real deal. To beat both Wolves and Watford in the manner that they have takes some arguing against – though no doubt some will still try.
“It’s all about making sure that you have a game plan that is going to work and all credit to the lads, everything we set out to do we did it extremely well and we won the game,” was Neil’s simple take on proceedings.
Three goals to the good at one end having built a solid base in the first-half and John Ruddy could afford to sit back and watch the Hornets suffer.
“I don’t think he had a save to make,” added Neil, as Norwich’s new-found defensive ability continues to underpin their rise back into promotion prominence.
“That’s four clean sheets out of five and we’ve got goals in us going forwards. And we’re not conceding many at the back so it makes for a good combination.”
As does the way that he is coming to mix and match his hungry squad as the games come thick and fast at a crucial part of the season. It’s all about kicking on off that back bend.
“It’s all about making sure that you have the right combination for whichever opposition you’re playing against,” the City chief told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
So for this afternoon’s trip to Vicarage Road, Neil avoided the obvious temptation of throwing new loan signing Graham Dorrans straight into the fray, instead handing Hoolahan the chance to keep himself one up in the manager’s midfield pecking order. It would prove something of a master stroke.
With Nathan Redmond relegated to the bench, it was an industrious midfield that featured Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey at its heart.
The one thing Norwich now have in abundance is competition for places in that midfield department with transfer window signing Tony Andreu also yet to enjoy his first Canary start.
Mindful of Tuesday night’s long trip to Blackburn, Gary Hooper was given the time out as Jerome returned to partner Grabban up front.
It is a sign of Norwich’s new-found resilience that the first period ended goalless as Sebastien Bassong – returning to his former loan employers – and club skipper Russell Martin kept the Hornets largely at arm’s length from Ruddy’s goal.
At the other end, however, Jerome and Grabban were having a similarly tough time of it; Norwich’s three goalward efforts falling once to Tettey and twice to Steven Whittaker. All three were from distance and wide of the mark as a tight, chess game continued to unfold.
All eyes would be on the second period and whether or not Neil could find the spark Norwich needed to claim another big victory as legs and minds began to tire.
Just after the hour mark and Neil’s managerial star rose just that little bit higher in the Norfolk night sky as Hoolahan persuaded Miguel Layon to concede a penalty.
Up stepped Grabban to find the bottom right hand corner and Norwich had their noses in front.
Five minutes later and Jerome was doubling City’s advantage with another top corner effort from the edge of the box. It was the 28-year-old’s 16th goal of the season. And it’s timing was immaculate.
Norwich had the killer second; their sights now firmly set on finishing the day in fifth place.
Six minutes from the end of normal time and Grabban’s second goal of the afternoon delivered another famous victory for City’s travelling supporters to savour.
It took him to 11 for the season. More importantly, it lay down a big marker to both Hooper and Jerome that they would need to be on fire to dig him out of Neil’s starting plans. Which is exactly what any manager would want to see amongst his strike trio.
Each busting a gut to keep the others out.
For the rest of the Canary Nation – the club’s season suddenly firing back into compelling life – it all makes for enthralling viewing. There was even time to give new-boy Dorrans a late run out as City comfortably saw the game out; another clean sheet in the bag.
Now to Rovers…