If there was any doubt left in anyone’s head who should be leading the line on Aug 8th they have been well and truly dispelled.
Cameron Jerome smashed in the winner on 66 minutes, just four minutes after coming on as part of a trio of substitutes. Up to that point we had looked somewhat ineffective up top. Grabban making all the right moves without any end product (he missed a golden chance in the first minute) and an over-reliance on the usual suspects from Midfield; Johnson & Hoolahan.
Jerome’s assist was credit to new-boy Andre Wisdom with a through ball of such quality it must have got most of the crowd gushing with excitement at what Wisdom might bring to the club over the next 38 games. Any premature dreams were relatively quickly dashed however when he was turned inside out by Alan Judge ten minutes later. This inability to turn was an accusation levelled by a number of WBA fans on Twitter when the Wisdom deal was announced but it clearly didn’t put Liverpool off from offering the lad a new four year contract just a couple of months ago – so we can only assume that it’s more a case of sour grapes than anything else.
The first 45 had a very familiar look to it. Neil set up his team in his preferred shape of 4-5-1 with Brady slotting in at left back and Mulumbo taking the holding role. Mulumbo looked, in my opinion, more than capable and broke up the Brentford play really well.
The game burst into life in the 17th minute when a little bit of football ping pong was ended by a delightful through ball over the top from Howson which Hoolahan had clearly wanted, the Rep. Ireland international bursting through on goal and lobbing David Button in exquisite style.
Celebrations were muted just two minutes later was a total hash-up by Martin gifted the ball to Gray and he absolutely lashed one in to top right hand corner – a quality goal from a quality striker (who scored a stack of goals last season…cough cough).
The rest of the half was classic friendly stuff. Lots of pretend huff and puff without much to write home about. Johnson had a thunderbolt saved by the impressive Button as Norwich finished the stronger of the two.
It didn’t feel like we were the Premiership team – but that was about to change. The half time oranges must have contained more than vitamin C as Norwich came out looking a different class to the Bees and started to overpower them. They were still susceptible on the break and there is clearly an argument for a new centre back. Martin was looking a bit fragile and Bassong, usually utterly dependable, was looking ragged as he tried to get close to Grey.
But the team, as a whole, looked brighter than Brentford. They had more ideas, more cut and thrust and more desire to win the ball. They looked like a team of players who wanted to win.
Multiple chances came and went and Neil must have spotted that the Brentford jugular was there for the cutting. He introduced Jerome, Wisdom and Nathan Redmond. Norwich moved up another gear and Jerome was played through by Wisdom and with no other options and an acute angle he just laced it into the top of the net. Quality.
As the game went on City had a number of other opportunities to extend the lead. Redmond had a shot blocked with the rebound getting stuck between Grabban’s legs. Brentford had a couple of half chances in the closing minutes but Ruddy was outstanding, as usual. One double save particular of note when he blocked an absolute gem of a chance from six yards with the goal gaping.
One major worry was when Mulumbo limped off with ten minutes to go. Hopefully this was not as bad as it looked – but he was carried down the tunnel, so not looking good.
Palace will be an entirely different task. They have strengthened well over the last few weeks and it’s going to be one hell of a test for the boys in yellow. We can only hope that over the next seven days Neil can the new boys better integrated with the old boys.