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Analysis: The tweak that has unlocked some of Ireland striker Adam Idah's Premier League potential

The Irish striker scored his first Premier League goal against Everton on Saturday, and may have given Stephen Kenny some food for thought in the process.

Image: PA

IT’S GOOD TO SEE Match of the Day is finally catching up to the football conversations we’ve already had in Ireland, evident as Gary Lineker mused on air as to whether it’s pronounced Eye-Dah or Ee-dah. (It’s the latter.) 

Happily, Adam Idah had given the Beeb reason to wonder. 

Idah scored his first Premier League goal to earn Norwich a 2-1 win at home to Everton on Saturday, with Alan Shearer moving on from Lineker’s musings to describe Idah’s performance as “superb.” 

Chris Sutton, meanwhile, tweeted Idah has “so much potential.”

Praise for Saturday’s performance should of course be somewhat leavened by stressing how truly diabolical his opponents were, though Idah may have endeared himself to Everton fans for triggering the end to the Rafa Benitez error. 

Nonetheless, this was without doubt Idah’s most effective of his five starts in the Premier League. It most obviously yielded his first goal, but Idah also took three shots in the game – he had never managed more than one in a Premier League game before – and attempted more passes (20) than he had in any game in the competition prior.

Norwich manager Dean Smith echoed Sutton’s words , describing Idah as a player with “an awful lot of potential”, but more interesting was what he said immediately prior.

“Ourselves and Adam are still finding out what type of player he is.”  

Idah’s blend of pace and physicality along with his finishing instinct has meant he’s been cast as a striker at club and international level to date – Smith has briefly played him out off the left – and given teams rarely play with two up front, he has had to lead the line alone. 

Now Idah is playing as one half of a front two. 

He has regularly led the line for Stephen Kenny’s Ireland alone, and with mixed results. He was outstanding away to Portugal – he genuinely bullied Ruben Dias at times – but struggled away to Luxembourg, hooked early in the second half and earning a mild rebuke from Keith Andrews for his reaction. (He was, in fairness, denied a blatant penalty in that same game.) 

He has done much of his best work for Ireland outside the box, and only once managed more than a single touch in the opposition penalty area in a World Cup qualifier last year. (That came during the siege at home to Azerbaijan.)

Idah has similarly struggled in that role for Norwich: he was largely anonymous in leading the line alone against Crystal Palace last month, managing a single touch in their box without having a shot at all. 

Smith, however, has since innovated by changing to a bold formation of ill-repute known in some English circles as fourfourfackin’two.

Pairing Idah with Teemu Pukki has greatly benefitted the Irish striker, and the duo were first debuted away to West Ham last midweek. Norwich were beaten 2-0 but Idah played well, and was unfortunate to see a long-range effort tipped onto the post by Lukasz Fabianksi.

He was simply more involved than he had been to date. 19 attempted passes was his highest before he went one better against Everton, while he took six touches in opponent’s box, which was twice as much as he had ever managed in the Premier League before. 

Smith stuck with his front two against Everton and the benefits were most obviously seen in Idah’s goal.

Some credit goes to Teemu Pukki, whose diagonal run draws the attention of Michael Keane from Idah, allowing Brandon Williams play a pass behind Keane and into Idah’s feet. 

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Pukki’s run opened what were, in fairness, yawning gaps in the Everton defence, and though Idah’s touch in the penalty area was poor, he reacted well to stab the ball beyond Jordan Pickford. 

Idah is one of the best finishers in the Irish squad, and the challenge is to get him facing goal and breaking into the penalty area more often. 

Where Idah truly excelled on Saturday was with his back to goal, as he has at times for Ireland. His burgeoning physicality and fine touch made him a terrific outlet for Norwich, and he consistently dropped deep into a No.10 position to collect possession, with Pukki a willing runner behind. 

There are so many examples to choose from, but here are just a couple. (Forgive the screengrabs, but the Premier League’s zealous policing of copyright means they are the best option.)

This is going to make particularly ugly reading for Andre Gomes. 

First Idah pounces on a loose ball ahead of Gomes, rolls him cleverly and accelerates away, getting Norwich on the front foot and up the field. On this occasion Pukki is out of shot, having darted behind the left-hand side of Everton’s defence. 

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Later in the game, Idah again beat Gomes to a loose ball. This time he draws a foul, but the referee waves advantage, allowing Idah slide a ball through for Pukki. The move ended with Pukki checking back inside and rolling a ball to the edge of the box for Idah, whose shot was blocked. 

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And in the game’s final stages, Idah leaps and wins a header ahead of Yerry Mina, which he directs Pukki’s way. He was then ready to take the return pass and break clear on goal, but Pukki’s pass was underhit and Mina swept it up. 

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Smith praised Idah’s performance against West Ham last midweek, though did mention that he passed up a couple of shooting opportunities. The manager can thus be heartened by the fact that the first thing Idah did when he got a sight of Everton’s goal on Saturday was shoot. 

To see Idah so effective in a front two may give Stephen Kenny food for thought ahead of the Nations League in June. The friendly games in March (against opponents yet to be announced) offer a chance for experimentation, and it will be interesting to see if Kenny seeks to pair Idah with another striker at some point.

If he does, Will Keane may enjoy sharing a pitch with Idah far more than his brother Michael and the rest of the Everton team did last Saturday. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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