It was good to be back in the old place last night and just walking in brought back glorious images of yellow and green smiles and blue and white frowns.
While I applaud the club’s curious efforts to mark Carrow Road’s big 8-0, for me it was all about the game. And, as friendlies go, it was quite a good one.
Certainly there was an edge to it often missing in pre-season games and, for all the jibes about our friends from the East End celebrating as if it were an FA Cup tie, their presence – both vocal and numerical – added a certain something to an occasion that was never going to be a damp squib.
Yet still it was an exercise in fitness and Alex Neil taking a look at those on the fringes going toe-to-toe against decent opposition, and, certainly with regard to the latter, some invaluable lessons were learned.
In the event, City’s starting XI was equally as ‘experimental’ as West Ham’s with both starting just two players likely to feature when it kicks off for real on August 8, although the strength of the Canaries’ line-up was another timely reminder of just how the stock of the squad has risen over the past three seasons.
And for an hour it was a good contest – only when Slaven Bilić decided to up ante and unleash a plethora of his big names did the balance of the game tilt heavily towards the Hammers.
For what it’s worth, the goal – while an OG by the unfortunate but excellent Harry Toffolo – had been coming for a good ten minutes and the fresh West Ham legs versus tiring Canary limbs made for a mis-match in the closing stages.
In fairness, Bilić’s men were decent value for the win and pinged the ball around to good effect in the final half an hour, but Neil and co still learned plenty.
Encouragingly, there were again some good performances from those on the fringes and a few will have now have fully registered on the radar of the boss while answering one or two questions in the process.
Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe is one who for some time has been in the ‘little something about him’ category – not least because of his dreadful luck with injuries last season – but this pre-season has been kind to him. He looks fit, has enjoyed plenty of game time and, as a result, is knocking on the door.
He cuts a big, powerful figure and, almost for the first time, is using those attributes to good effect in a yellow shirt; his ability to cut inside from the left flank early on in the second half being particularly eye-catching.
His best position – or at least the position in which he excelled in Belgium – appears to be the ‘number 10′ role but with Wes in pole position for that shirt, Vadis’ ability to start out wide and drift inside looks like it could be a useful weapon to add to Alex’s armoury.
City’s full-backs both continued their respective impressive pre-seasons with Tofollo, in particular, looking very much the part against some more than tidy opposition.
While the arrival of Robbie Brady – which has now been concluded (hallelujah…) – may push him down the left-sided pecking order he has done more than enough to suggest he’s due a Premier League opportunity at some stage.
On the other side of the pitch the Elliot Bennett at full-back story continues to gather apace. As you would expect from one who has played most of his career as a winger, he remains more comfortable when heading in a forward direction but his positional sense when back-peddling improves game by game.
In what would have been an invaluable hour in his defensive learning curve, going toe-to-toe with an old-fashioned winger like Matt Jarvis offered him a perfect and timely challenge. And he rose to it well, even if part of said curve was him showing Jarvis the outside only to be shown a ‘clean pair’ on a couple of first-half occasions.
Again, while the arrival of Andre Wisdom would see him drop a place in the right-back pecking order, he’s done enough over this pre-season to suggest there is a future for him as a swashbuckling, over-lapping full-back.
Tony Andreu – another who remains in the ‘little something about him category’ – also did sufficient to edge himself an inch or two further forward in his manager’s thinking and made good use of the extra milli-second of time afforded to those playing out wide.
Other random observations…
– The orchestrated pre-match “On the Ball City…” doesn’t work at friendlies
– The 10th minute applause to commemorate Carrow Road’s first ever goal was a tad ‘cringey’
– Gary O’Neil can pick a pass and likes a tackle
– West Ham supporters are a chirpy bunch
– Ricky sadly, in my opinion, is not going to make it
So… a good workout for all concerned and a fairly enjoyable one for those who chose to join the ‘party’. Just Brentford to go now – which one would assume will give us a good indication of Alex’s first choice starting XI – and then it’s Crystal Palace time.
And I can’t wait.