In Focus: Sargent set to take charge of Norwich’s survival bid

Matthew Hill
Josh Sargent was the star of the show for Norwich against Watford last week
Josh Sargent was the star of the show for Norwich against Watford last week

Good things come to those who wait — just as Norwich forward Josh Sargent found out when bagging a brilliant brace against Watford last Friday.

The 21-year-old American had gone 18 Premier League appearances without getting off the mark before a deft scorpion flick and a thumping header opened his top-flight account in spectacular fashion.

With that monkey now off his back, we consider whether Sargent could be the man to lead Dean Smith’s side to safety against all odds come May.

Plenty of promise

Signed from Werder Bremen in the summer for a reported fee of around £8million, Sargent arrived at Carrow Road with a burgeoning reputation.

The young American had netted five goals in his first 12 caps for the US national side while also showcasing impressive maturity and versatility at club level.

A modest haul of 11 goals in his 70 Bundesliga appearances looked more impressive when factoring in the range of positions he covered for his former club — regularly featuring on both wings as well as through the middle.

Upon completion of the deal, that flexibility was something ex-Canaries boss Daniel Farke clearly admired.

Farke said: "Josh is a very good striking option for us but is someone who can also play on the wing. He has pace and is also good with his head. 

"We know he is always there with a big workload and has a fantastic character."

Tough start

It has been a tough start to Premier League life for American international Josh Sargent
It has been a tough start to Premier League life for American international Josh Sargent

That character has been tested to the limit in what has been a challenging start to life in England for Sargent.

Used only as a late substitute in Norwich’s first three games, he had to wait until a mid-September clash against Watford for a first start but quickly became a regular in Farke’s starting XI.

Leading the line alongside Teemu Pukki, five consecutive opportunities all ended in frustration — none more so than when missing an open goal in a 0-0 draw with Brighton that led to the youngster being ridiculed on social media.

Sargent was back on the bench by the time Farke found a first win of the campaign against Brentford — but just hours after that victory, Norwich parted company with their boss.

It would have been easy for Sargent to wonder where he would fit in under a new regime following an underwhelming opening three months in Norfolk.

However, he is instead scaling new heights under the tutelage of Smith.

Change of approach

Brought on off the bench in Smith’s first match in charge — a 2-1 victory over Southampton — Sargent found himself deployed on the right wing.

A position he graced regularly for Werder Bremen, it is where the American has since spent the bulk of his minutes under his new boss — and his confidence has visibly grown with each passing game.

Tasked with providing width and work rate rather than a direct focal point, the youngster has played with a fire in his belly and is now starting to reap the rewards of his persistence.

He was a constant menace for debuting Everton full-back Vitaliy Mykolenko in the Canaries’ 2-1 home win earlier this month and carried that momentum into Friday’s Watford triumph.

In fact, both of his priceless strikes against the Hornets showcased characteristics that his former boss Farke identified all those months ago.

First, his natural striker’s instinct helped him cleverly divert a drilled cross home with his heel before his aerial prowess saw him tower over Hassane Kamara and guide home a second goal.

Only the start

Norwich fans will hope Josh Sargent's performance against Watford is a sign of what is to come
Norwich fans will hope Josh Sargent's performance against Watford is a sign of what is to come

Sargent will hope those two goals do not prove just a flash in the pan — and he certainly has the backing of his manager to go on a scoring streak.

With an FA Cup fourth-round tie against Wolves up next for the East Anglians before a home league clash with Crystal Palace, Smith will be keen for Sargent to continue his fine form.

Speaking after the Watford win, the Canaries boss said: "Josh is a great lad. He’s very respected within the dressing room. 

"His work rate, his work ethic — he’s a team player. But as all forwards, they want to score goals and want to be known by goals and he has found them hard to come by so far.

"I’m really pleased for him. His character is never something I could question. 

"There’ve been chances where he will feel he could have scored, but his character is never in question because he is a real team player, a really good team-mate to have."

Big months ahead

After his second strike against Watford, Sargent celebrated by rocking his arms back and forth in a gesture dedicated to his new baby daughter Romy.

He joked with Jamie Carragher in his post-match interview: "After the first one, I didn’t celebrate for my newborn baby, so I knew the wife would definitely want me to!"

And while his sleeping pattern might be a little disturbed in the coming months, Sargent will require little motivation to stay focused.

With USA well placed to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, starting berths are up for grabs in Gregg Berhalter’s side and goals in the English top tier will make the Norwich forward hard to ignore.

First, he must try to help the Canaries survive the Premier League drop — and suddenly that looks like a distinct possibility. 


Norwich CityPremier League

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