Seldom, certainly of late, can I recall City smothering an opposing midfield like they did yesterday; the ball being won back at will for long periods of that first half – the centre-mid triumvirate working just how Hughton must have dreamt it on Saturday night.
If supporting Norwich for over forty years has taught me one thing, it’s that scenarios such as this rarely end well. While there has been much talk of Hughton ‘losing the dressing room’ – something that will remain conjecture to all but a few – to lose the crowd is arguably even more damaging.
The seventies were the formative years of a ‘top-level’ Norwich City just as they were for a third-generation City fanatic – my dad having been indoctrinated similarly in the post-war years by his own City-mad father.
With Leroy Fer reminding us that he’s still finding his Premier League feet and Bradley Johnson re-affirming once again that passing isn’t his strong suit, the central midfield area looked exposed from minute one. All a far cry from 12 months ago when Johnson and Howson outplayed Sandro and Livermore in a straight two versus two match up.
If the much vaunted ‘promise’ had shown even the slightest hint of coming to fruition you can bet your life that Hughton would have given it a chance to flourish; the fact he didn’t confirms perhaps that, at 23 years of age, said midfielder’s career has stagnated.
Of course there are many other issues that stretch far beyond the stereotypical ‘too many foreigners’ debate’, not least the permanent collision course on which the FA and the Premier League find themselves.
While the visitors took the honours for artistic impression, City edged it where it really mattered, with Nathan Redmond’s splendid strike from 20 yards springing a fairly subdued Carrow Road to life midway through that tense and twitchy second half.
All too often in recent the past we’ve given fringe players a chance to shine in Cup games only for them to confirm their rightful place on the periphery with tepid, unconvincing displays. For the Shakers to be swept aside in such clinical fashion was a little ‘un-Norwich like’.
Yes, City enjoyed huge chunks of possession when faced with ten opponents in the second half, but with the ball shifted so ponderously Steve Bruce’s two massed banks of four simply shifted across ensuring there were no gaping holes and forced City to play in front of them. In the midst of last season’s poor run we bemoaned the lack of quality in the side – no excuses this time round.
A point against a quality side with the top six in their sights is far from a disaster, even if a couple of ‘Canary Callers’ tried to convince us otherwise; likewise the bloke in the River End at half-time who thought Redmond was “virtually playing at left-back!” Hhmm.
As much as I’d like to throw City’s hat into the ring as potential leaders of the ‘peloton’, there are a few who currently have a stronger case. Swansea for example.
The friendly with Real Sociedad – played in front of an excellent crowd of over 14,000 – provided most of those present with their first ‘live’ glimpse of Hughton’s summer purchases and there was little to disappoint; the 1-1 scoreline almost an irrelevance.
A classy midfielder with a left foot that can open a tin of beans, his elegant style was one that fitted perfectly with Lambert’s desire to play the midfield diamond.
In the case of Quagliairella, he now appears to find himself a little way down the Juve pecking order and so one assumes an unlikely move to ‘unfashionable’ Norwich would come with an expectation of regular first-team football.
Given the protracted nature of this saga no-one would have been the slightest bit surprised if there had been a last minute hitch or two, but in the spirit of the Canadian Mounty, McNally and Hughton look to have got their man.
However laudable the Duke of Cambridge’s desire to later remind his new born son ’of his ‘tardiness’, when compared to the Hooper saga the wait for the arrival of HRH Prince George of Cambridge almost pales into insignificance. But as relieved as we’ll all be to see an end to it, how many of us will find the feeling of indifference replaced by one of ambivalence? Chris Hughton clearly wanted Hooper, and is clearly convinced that he could do a job at the top level.
I’m not expecting the Italian’s agent and family to come out and declare the Norwich option still to be a viable one, with Tuesday’s private jet from Turin to Norwich now looking highly unlikely to have contained a swarthy looking Italian goalscorer.
City’s approach hopefully differs because those on the shopping list are there because they fit the City mould. Not because they’re ‘a name’ and they look impressive on paper but because, courtesy of Ewan Chester’s scouting reports, they provide a certain something that Chris Hughton has identified as missing from his current crop.
City legends who feature in the book include Craig Bellamy, Darren Huckerby, Malky MacKay and Robert Green; all of whom have been on the McVeigh radar for a variety of reasons – some good, some not so good. The story of Malky giving a young McVeigh a ‘rough ride’ in the early days will be of particular interest to the Yellow Army.
From the moment Holt arrived in the fine city it was obvious to all that here was a proud man – not someone who would be willing to blend into the background. A warrior; a fighter; someone who – courtesy of his footballing roots – would attempt to squeeze every last drop out of the opportunity afforded him by Bryan Gunn.