Connor Southwell delivers his Wigan verdict after Norwich City’s 1-1 draw at Carrow Road.
1 – A rollercoaster of a return
Go on, you’ve missed it, haven’t you?
If there were any nerves about what was to come as supporters were making their way into Carrow Road for this lunchtime kick-off, then the nature of City’s performance in the opening 15 minutes saw them quickly dissipate.
Norwich’s home was largely a place to publically mourn the 2021/22 campaign in the final months of that difficult Premier League campaign.
The hope as the home supporters flooded through the turnstiles was that the narrative would be substantially different on this occasion.
As the sunlight illuminated the pitch and the sound of chatter that contained the sentence ‘how was your summer?’ filled the air, this did feel like a clean start.
What those fans were granted was a yellow and green tsunami in the opening quarter. Max Aarons saw a shot fly wide. Teemu Pukki followed up soon after.
But as ever with Norwich, this was never going to be straightforward. It never is.
James McClean profited from a cheap concession; Norwich’s heads, and their performance, dropped significantly from that point.
Norwich will be waiting anxiously on the prognosis of Dimitris Giannoulis’ injury that saw the Greek international stretched off after catching his back foot on a Wigan player.
They did conjure up a response. Their second-half performance was vastly improved.
But that will do little to comfort the Canaries operators when they retire to their homes this evening. This was a game that many earmarked as a win. Once again, they have failed to do that.
Your outlook on that and what comes may depend on how full you view your glass to be.
2 – Old wounds
In Grant Hanely’s absence, Ben Gibson was the only senior alternative in the heart of the defence.
Not only was he handed an instant reprieve, but Gibson also assumed the armband and the authority that duty holds.
Last time the 29-year-old was at this level, his incisive passing was a major plus in Daniel Farke’s progressive, possession-based City outfit.
That contrasted with the rashness of his attempt to find Marcelino Nunez with an in-field pass, gifting it to Will Keane in an advanced area. It could well be put down to rustiness after his injury absence.
Perhaps even more concerning was the space that James McClean was afforded to gallop into and slot into the net thereafter.
Norwich were given a similar warning a few moments earlier when Omobamidele made a similar concession, but Callum Lang was unable to pick out the back of the net from Keane’s pass.
That goal acted as a sucker punch to the atmosphere around Carrow Road but also to City’s early momentum.
It was enough to send a chill down the spines of those regulars who endured last season and the regularity that individual errors led to opposition goals.
Whether it is Championship or Premier League, that is something Norwich have to eradicate from their game.
3 – More to come from Marcelino
Marcelino Nunez’ journey to Carrow Road is quite the tale.
It is almost a rags to riches narrative that saw a modest Chilean boy turn into a footballer plying his trade in England.
As he waltzed around the pitch before the game, you could see him taking in the wonders of his new home. A quick thumbs up to the awaiting camera followed.
Given the desperation for creativity in midfield areas, Norwich fans were waiting with bated breath.
The Chilean international was only unveiled as a Canaries player on Wednesday evening; by Saturday, he found himself in the starting line-up.
His first offering was encouraging, but there was a natural fizzle, perhaps understandable given the magnitude of the occasion.
One chipped pass to send Rashica galloping through was exquisite whilst another raking pass to Giannoulis displayed his passing range.
In the weeks ahead, he will adapt to the rigours of the Championship, but the early indications suggest Norwich have unearthed a player to inject some much-needed creativity into their side and knit the attacking phases together.
4 – A watching brief
Borussia Monchengladbach’s head of recruitment was reportedly in attendance at Carrow Road to run the rule over MIlot Rashica – it won’t escape Norwich fans who is currently occupying the dug-out at Borussia Park.
Daniel Farke pushed hard to bring the Kosovan to Carrow Road last summer and was granted his wish in an outlay that cost Norwich around £9million.
If Rashica is hoping to gain a move away from Norfolk before the end of the transfer window, then he will likely need to showcase more than he delivered in this encounter, despite the assist.
Switched to the right-hand side, the Kosovan’s runs often culminated with a defensive tackle or saw him halted after pacing into a dead end.
But even still, there were bursts of pace and energy. His poise to pick out the overlapping Max Aarons displayed the quality that quality everybody in these parts knows he possesses.
That has been at the core of the frustrations surrounding Rashica.
Whether the report that will make its way back to Germany will contain the advice to make Norwich an offer for their winger remains to be seen.
5 – Baby steps
Whisper it quietly – but this, for the most part, was far more encouraging from Norwich.
Their performance had intensity, vigour and purpose. Their pressing intense, their possession incisive and meaningful.
Beyond a section in the middle of the game where the Wigan opener left everybody inside Carrow Road shellshocked, this was a much-improved offering from Smith’s side.
In many ways, the only thing missing was a winning goal.
After the lengthy conversations about their attacking play, Norwich did carve out chances at regular intervals.
Pukki hit the bar with a curling effort. Norwich should have been awarded a penalty after a rash challenge on Aarons from Tom Naylor late on. Onel Hernandez injected a real spark into City’s attack down the left.
Smith has the right minerals to convert this Norwich side into an entertaining, free-scoring outfit. That won’t happen overnight.
The manner in which their equalising goal was constructed will offer optimism. But everyone knows this side will ultimately be judged on the number of points it amasses and the position it finishes in.
This was a baby step, but there were plenty of green shoots in terms of their forward play.