City’s penultimate friendly of 2021 became a walk in the park, the Canaries’ midfield oozing class as they waltzed to a 5-0 victory over League One Gillingham.
Pierre Lees-Melou’s long-distance opener was the highlight of the night, Lukas Rupp’s tap-in sandwiched by an Adam Idah double before Jacob Sorensen completed the rout.
It had been a night to remember for the midfield trio that started the game, Lees-Melou and Rupp flanking Billy Gilmour, who was a class above the match he graced. Gilmour was the thread running throughout, his raking passes and clever one-twos a common theme. City’s new number 8 departed on 85 minutes to a standing ovation.
The Scot’s preference for a switch of play from right to left was complemented perfectly by Dimitris Giannoulis, who returned to the Carrow Road pitch like he’d never been away. The former PAOK left-back hadn’t featured in pre-season until Tuesday night’s clash but didn’t lack the energy to routinely produce his trademark bursts down the left flank.
The first of these almost resulted in an early reward, Giannoulis crossing for Idah but seeing the Irishman’s header under pressure drift over the bar. The 10,624 City fans inside Carrow Road didn’t have to wait long for the opener, however.
Lees-Melou received the ball on his right foot in the 10th minute, shifting on to his left before curling out of the ‘keeper’s reach from 20 yards out. The Frenchman is already developing cult hero status and, from an admittedly small sample size, looks a bargain at £3.5million.
On 21 minutes, Max Aarons impressed at the end of the pitch he’s most commonly found doing so, but not in his traditional way. Usually seen whipping low crosses into the box or cutting back from the byline, Aarons slalomed past the Gillingham defenders like they were cones in a dribbling exercise, skipping past several challenges before seeing his shot blocked at the final hurdle.
It only took the opening quarter for City’s highly technical midfield to tune up. There may be question marks around the viability of a trio of Rupp, Gilmour and Lees-Melou in the heat of the Premier League battle and with much less possession than they enjoyed last night, but the quality in their feet was undeniable.
Gilmour combined with Rupp on the edge of the box to create an opportunity for his first goal in a Norwich shirt, but couldn’t force enough curl to find the net after 27 minutes. The Scot reproduced the move six minutes later when he combined with the generally quiet Kieran Dowell, but this time blazed over the near side.
Tim Krul and Angus Gunn enjoyed a half each at Carrow Road; good news after Gunn had missed the last pre-season fixture because of a positive Covid-19 test.
The Canaries’ goalkeeping duo may not technically have been tested but there was a worry when Vadaine Oliver’s header crashed into the bar directly from a corner. Set-pieces were a particular source of woe during City’s horrendous 2019/20 campaign and, after a season of improvement in that area, Daniel Farke won’t be keen to re-open the wound.
Farke’s side recovered quickly, however, doubling their lead in the attack that followed. Todd Cantwell received the ball in the box with plenty to do, working it into the air before hooking across with a spectacular overhead kick, Idah tapping home.
The second half was less eventful than the first but probably more comfortable for the dominant home side, who did take a while to kick back into gear in the final third.
The first chance of the second period fell to Lukas Rupp in the 62nd, and the German couldn’t miss. A sublimely weighted and angled pass from Gilmour had teed up Giannoulis to whip low into the box and find the number 7 for his first goal in a City shirt.
Soon afterwards, Farke began ringing the changes. Ben Gibson’s 63 minutes were encouraging after a long-term ankle injury, fellow rehab-endurer Kenny McLean returning for a little more than the final quarter.
The changes were no hindrance to the fluidity around the box, Idah grabbing his second and City’s fourth. His finish was potentially as impressive as Lees-Melou’s, turning on a sixpence to fire into the top corner from 14 yards. Jamie Cumming was rooted to the spot in goal.
Cumming sprung into actions shortly afterwards, however, scrambling back to acrobatically deny Cantwell’s audacious long-range chip.
There was still room for some typical pre-season panic caused by a key player sustaining a small injury. When Giannoulis stayed down for a few minutes the worry began to set in, but all was well in the end. That the Greek had operated with such energy for 90 minutes having played no prior part in pre-season was commendable and promising.
Sorensen rounded things off with almost the final action of the game, A touch of lazy and resigned defending helping the Dane as Cantwell’s free-kick drifted on to his unmarked head to nudge in from six yards.
An impressive win for City, and while the caveat of League One opposition must be added, the Canaries provided a lot to be encouraged by. Farkeball was in full flow, Gilmour delightful, Giannoulis excellent and Cantwell on top form. If they can reach the same level of performance in 11 days’ time, who knows what could happen…
Krul 6; Aarons 7, Omobamidele 6, Gibson 6, Giannoulis 8; Lees-Melou 8, Gilmour 9, Rupp 8; Cantwell 8, Dowell 5, Idah 8.
Subs: Gunn 6, Zimmermann 6, Sorensen 7, McLean 5, Tomkinson 5, Adshead 5.