No one expected 2017 to start quite as well for Norwich City, Jon Punt and Andy Lawn take a look into whether this might be a sign of things to come or just a flash in the pan....
Random star performer
Triple Nelson (can we call him that now?) wouldn't be random. His perfect hat-trick will rightly steal the plaudits. In fact, has another Norwich player ever scored a left foot, right foot, headed trio while wearing the yellow and green?
The moon to Oliveira's Venus however was Wes. Like Howson, Hoolahan's mere presence seems to lift us. His calmness and willing to receive the ball in tight spaces, adds 2 if not 3 different dimensions to our play. He works hard, tracks runners, sticks his foot in and today did just enough showboating to frustrate Jacob Butterfield into an unseemly lunge. Nelson was admirable. Wes was wonderful.
Honourable mentions too for Russ, Timm and Martin Olsson who barely gave Ince a sniff. Big Johnâs giant hand midway through the second half to keep us ahead was a possible turning point too. Lots of excellent performances makes for a lovely change.
Moment of the match
The aforementioned Ruddy save was, goals aside, a huge moment. As was the red card. However the instant we've plumped for happened just before the half hour. A Derby corner was half cleared and fell to Wes on the edge of our box. Two opponents came to try and nick it away to keep Norwich under pressure, but with a neat little body swerve and a dip of the shoulder, Wes left them both for dead without actually touching the ball and we were on the counter attack. Ultimately the move it brought came to nothing but for impudent skill and daring it was sensational, alleviating the kind of pressure City traditionally do not deal well with.
Biggest positive to take
Norwich have been accused of only managing to accumulate points against the sides occupying the lower reaches of the division, dispatching a Derby side who have been in decent form gets the proverbial monkey off the back. But most of all, this was a performance which had all the hallmarks of a side playing for the manager, aware of the game plan and ready to drive forward at will. This season has been lacking at least the latter two qualities and if Alex Neil is to turn things around (still a bigger ask than Honey G breaking the top 10 singles chart) heâll need to maintain these performance levels. Much, much better, and what we knew some of these players were capable of. Probably the most convincing home win of the season, although the pool of dominant displays is rather shallow.
Darren Bond started poorly with a mystifying series of incorrect calls, but like Norwich's players he seemed to settle into the game. Butterfield's tackle looked bad in real time, but like Brady's at Brentford it may have looked worse than it really was. However, if Brady is to serve a 3 game ban then we fully expect poor Jacob to be banned for life, the big bully.
Weâre grasping at straws here, but it was a travesty Steven Naismith snatched at a chance masterfully laid on by next seasonâs replica kit catalogue models, Pinto and Oliveira. Nelson had already left two defenders bemused with the cheekiest of backheels before his BFF Ivo powered onto the byline, teeing up the former Evertonian. It was coming at him with pace, and was slightly higher up his leg than heâd have liked it, but had Naismith seen the net ripple the goal would have been wonderfully sexual. It would also have capped a fine performance from the much maligned Scot, especially after heâd looked particularly rusty in the first 20 minutes.
Steve McClaren said in his post match comments that their game plan was working. That they had managed to quieten us and we were about to turn. Then Nelson scored. He's right. Had Derby got that goal after a scrappy and forgettable opening, the atmosphere would have been poisonous and you'd assume we'd have gone on to lose 3-0 rather than win. McClaren's comments show just how vital our support is, we have an effect, we are part of the game and we need to play our part. Outside those 90 minutes protest all you like, within them support the team and we all win. Literally.
Its easy to go off the deep end when youâre basking in the reflective glory of your team winning 3-0, but this was really, really good. And it was Along Come Norwich is a good way, with Derby unbeaten in 10 before they ventured east.
Pretty much faultless displays across the park were the order of the day and another clean sheet with an adjusted back line will do the confidence levels no harm at all. What is perhaps the most pleasing part though was the sideâs willingness to press forward at any given opening. When the ball reached the final third there was a crisp nature to Cityâs passing and tactically Alex Neil was spot on.
The front 4 all offered differing qualities, Naismith harried and was able to get beyond the number 9 on a number of occasions, which has been lacking from his play since joining the club. Murphy looked as if he had been let off the leash once more and it was refreshing to see a Norwich winger beat a man for pace from a standing start. Wes was, well, Wes-like and Oliveira is fast becoming the intelligent finisher we craved all summer. 24 shots with 12 on target, many of these before Butterfieldâs dismissal, are a potential sign of a return to the attacking instincts which made this managerâs teams successful. Still, as Russ said on Saturday, itâs baby steps lads.