Despite a season of disappointment, Saturday’s 7-1 thrashing of play-off bound Reading will rightfully earn the Norwich City squad of 2016/17 a place in the Canary record books for centuries to come. Their somewhat miraculous 6-goal first-half haul marked the first time City had scored 6 in one half since 1908, and the first time ever done so since our move to Carrow Road in 1935.
Wow, where to start? It is difficult to know whether to be overjoyed or frustrated; overjoyed at the fact that our side has finally illustrated its true potential and, in the process, utterly humiliated a promotion hopeful. Or frustrated, asking myself where such performances have been all season.
7-1 is too extreme a thrashing to be put down as a one-off, freak result. The extent of our victory, and the sheer level of dominance that we exerted throughout the 90 minutes, showed that we are a capable of being a far, far better side than Reading. I don’t care what the league table says. If a City side at their best was to play a Reading side at their best then, more often than not, we would win. The fact that we sit 6 places and 13 points behind them typifies just how much we have under-performed this season. For that reason, it is difficult not to be frustrated.
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That being said, if you can’t enjoy your side winning 7-1 then is there really any point in being a football fan? Whilst, in terms of our league position and any lingering play-off hopes, the victory has done very little, it has given us a small, optimistic glimpse of what next season could bring. With some wise investment, and the retention of some key players such as Saturday’s star-of-the-show Alex Pritchard, such victories should become the norm next season. Okay, it is unrealistic to expect a weekly 6-goal margin victory, but we should be capable of dominating the majority of sides in this division. A wise managerial appointment will go a long way to helping us do so.
The worst thing about it all? Despite our form, our league position, and the fact that we were playing 4th-place – the victory (maybe not the scoreline) did not come as a huge shock. Whilst pundits and neutrals alike would most likely see us as one of the most inconsistent sides in the division, for the majority of City supporters we have been horrifically predictable: strong at home, woeful away. Somewhat unbelievably we have only lost 3 times at home all season (the 3rd least in the division) and, after yesterday, we are comfortably the highest scorers on home turf. Our home form has never been an issue.
As such, with home comforts and three of our best players – Mitchell Dijks, Ivo Pinto and Wes Hoolahan – back in the starting line-up, I was expectant of a victory. Whilst Cameron Jerome has been imperious in recent weeks, and was rightly awarded the Player of the Month award for March, the return of Nelson Oliveira to the lone striker berth was also welcome. For all of Jerome’s strengths, the Portuguese has always possessed that little bit extra and he certainly contributed to Saturday’s vastly more cohesive attacking display.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Pinto and Dijks and it comes as little surprise that the two coming in for last Wednesday’s pairing of Steven Whittaker and Russell Martin immediately resulted in a huge change of fortune.
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Saturday marked the first game since the arrival of new Sporting Director Stuart Webber and he will have surely liked what he saw. He is quite obviously no mug and he will be more than aware that the performance papered over some gaping cracks that he will need to address over the summer, but it will have given him a taste of what we are capable of. Whilst such a display is quite difficult to dissect, if Webber is to take one thing away from the game then surely it will be the necessity of keeping hold of Alex Pritchard.
If he, and the rest of the City board, have any genuine ambition to put the wrongs of this season right next year then they must do everything in their power to keep hold of the 23-year-old. He is an absolute gem of the player and the fact that Alex Neil failed to realise this, preferring to keep him on the bench or in the reserves for much of the season, tells you everything that you need to know about the Scot. Pritchard was one, lone shining light from the defeats at Villa and Huddersfield and Saturday saw him at his best once more.