Nelson Oliveira’s perfect hat trick (one left foot, one right foot and a header) sealed the points for Norwich in a dominant display as they brushed in-form Derby County aside.
There was a sigh as I saw the team an hour before kick off and noted that Alex Neil had reverted to his 4-2-3-1 formation after teasing us with a 3-5-2 at Brentford. Robbie Brady was suspended, so Steven Naismith came in and Martin Olsson came back into the defence with Ryan Bennett dropping to the bench.
The big news though was the return of Wes Hoolahan behind Nelson Oliveira, which turned out to be the catalyst for the game with the little wizard running the show and eventually frustrating Jacob Butterfield so much that he tried to break his legs.
It was night and day compared to recent weeks as the in-form Rams had a decent first ten minutes but were then over run by a confident, dominant performance – what have you done with the real Norwich City, who are these imposters?
Oliveira scored his first on 15 minutes when he was allowed to run at goal before hitting a low shot into the corner with his left foot from 20 yards. City then ripped the visitors to pieces time and again and really should’ve scored several more before the break.
Steven Naismith volleyed over the bar when he should’ve scored before Murphy was denied by Carson and then Naismith again missed a one-on-one with the Derby keeper. Both chances were created by the wonderful passing of Hoolahan.
Olsson was the next to test Carson from the left and then Tettey hit a post after a corner late in the first half. Derby were very lucky to still be in it at the break but that all important second goal just wouldn’t come, meaning that the visitors were still in the game.
I feared that surely Derby wouldn’t be so poor in the second half as they’d been in the first but Norwich carried on where they left off with Oliveira clipping a shot off the bar early on.
Oliveira then fired over from Murphy’s cutback and Norwich almost paid for their profligacy in front of goal when Tom Ince went one-on-one with Ruddy. The City keeper was up to the task though and saved well.
The game was effectively up for Derby on 66 minutes though, when Butterfield’s frustrated lunge at Hoolahan on half way had Mr Bond reaching for his red card.
Murphy then fired wide and Howson forced Carson into a decent save before the second goal finally came. After yet another period of sustained Norwich pressure on 78 minutes, Martin’s cross was flicked on by Howson and then headed home by Oliveira.
The third came just two minutes later when Oliveira smashed a loose ball home with his right foot in the box, sealing the perfect hat trick.
Ruddy also saved another one-on-one late on from Darren Bent to preserve the clean sheet, much to the delight of the Canary faithful.
This was a terrific performance from Norwich against an in-form Derby side who have been on a great run since Steve McLaren returned to Pride Park. They were unbeaten in ten prior to this game.
I suppose that it just shows what our team is capable of if the right players are picked. I thought that the return of Wes Hoolahan was key and the fact he’s been benched for so long has just been ridiculous. When he’s in this sort of form he is virtually unplayable.
Nelson Oliveira is now the main man and shows strength, energy and most importantly, he can finish chances. Adding Timm Klose and Russell Martin also paid dividends.
The fact that Bradley Johnson looked like he was playing as a centre back for most of this game was telling. Derby couldn’t get out much and he was playing on the edge of his own area, repelling City attacks for the most part.
Every Norwich player did well, with Naismith the only one who could potentially be questioned. His finishing leaves a bit to be desired and he likes a back pass rather than going forwards, quite often.
Now, is the start of some sort of renaissance or just a blip before we return to being bang average?
We next play Rotherham in the league, which is a great game to be following this win up with. Shame we’ve got that Southampton Cup game as the next match though because that will be a tough one.
This win over Derby though put a smile on plenty of faces, a good performance and a win, the best start to the new year.