Who expected that then? Not even Alan Irvine we'd wager, Jon Punt and Andrew Lawn review a memorable afternoon in the Carrow Road sun.
Random star performer
As a goalkeeper, on a day when your team lose 7-1, you’d be forgiven for thinking everything went a little bit “Theoklitos” for Ali Al-Habsi. During the first half there might have been something in that assertion. The Reading stopper not only suffered the indignity of watching Alex Pritchard find the top corner with the pick of the goals as Al-Habsi grabbed at air, but then the ball decided to rebound from the stanchion into the poor chap’s face. Among all of this he was spilling shots left, right and centre, gifting Martin and Hoolahan their strikes in the process. So on first half performances alone he was Norwich’s star man.
Not so after the interval. In a determined display he decided to thwart attack after attack, somehow keeping out Klose’s header and clawing at a number of low crosses so they would avoid the advancing Oliveira. Credit where its due, lesser men would have crumbled. Al-Habsi just came out determined to show he was better than the preceding 45 minutes had suggested. Well played that man.
Moment of the match
In a match full of incident, goals, penalties and generally jazzy brilliance, this pick might surprise you. In fact it probably evaded the attention of many. Midway through the first half a long punt from his keeper was dropping onto Gareth McCleary’s radar. The winger moved his body in such a way as to bring the ball under his close control and in an instant the ever spritely Mr Hoolahan anticipated exactly where it was about to land and proceeded to steal possession. Ultimately the subsequent attack came to nothing, and the moment itself won’t live long in many people’s memory, but it demonstrated why we love Wes so much. His talent is between his ears, if he can just keep his legs moving quickly enough there may well be some life in him yet. Bring on the Westimonial.
James Linington really didn’t have an awful lot to do, short of pointing to the spot for a slightly soft penalty and making sure all the lovely goals were recorded in his little notebook. Not much to see here, although if we’re being hyper critical he did miss McCleary’s body slam on Dijks (who knew that was even possible?) in front of the Barclay.
Biggest positive to take
Where to start? No-one saw this coming, and if you claim you did you undoubtedly come from the Sean Spicer school of bullshit. An almost faultless performance. It looked a formidable team on paper, but this season has shown that names don't win football matches. However, the strength on paper was replicated on grass. 1-11 City were excellent.
Pritchard was the pick, once again pulling the strings when it came to most of the positive moments from the boys in yellow, and there were many. He was ably assisted by his diminutive partner in crime, Wes rolling back the years and showing a oodles of determination can reap rewards as he somehow managed to get bundled over and contort his body to score in one beautiful movement. In short (pun totally intended) Hoolahard was back in full force.
Almost impossible to pick anything negative from a match where superlatives should roll off the tongue, yet we left Carrow Road with a horrible sense of ‘What If?”. What if Nelson Oliveira didn’t get injured/punch people while on the floor? What if Alex Neil had been jettisoned earlier? What if Stuart Webber had turned up a few weeks previous and everyone suddenly starting proving their individual points when it really mattered? What if Mitchell Dijks had signed permanently and he was really ours? What if indeed.
Some wonderful moments, which was more than was to be expected from a friendly in all but name. It was far from bouncing but there were genuinely loud moments. Plus, "Who put his balls in Grabban's wife? Super Bradley Johnson" was football chanting at it's edgiest best, even if those rumours are almost definitely nonsense. Yet interlaced between all of that there were still genuine moments of complete silence. Given how this season has panned out it can be forgiven, it was either total shock at what was happening in front of our very eyes or people couldn’t really be arsed. Both fair responses.
With Alan Irvine installed until the end of the campaign the growing sense of apathy was starting to kick in as we trudged to the Carra, ready for another dead rubber as the season draws to disappointingly meaningless close. So what followed was unexpected, wonderful and made us proud once more.
Ruddy looking commanding, Tettey was pressing high up the pitch and looking like his knees actually worked again, while the fabulous front four clicked into gear in a way we’re unlikely to witness again for some time.
It was quite the first half, emotion ran high as Russell Martin saluted Peter Oldfield in front of the Barclay, capping off a composed display from the skipper. He’s taken pelters recently and he answered his critics in the best way possible. Elation turned to surprise as Norwich turned up the heat on a Reading side badly out of sorts in the summer sun. It could, and should, have been double figures. For now we’ll just take 7 (SEVEN).