NELSON Oliveira's outstanding hat-trick powered the Canaries to a convicing 3-0 victory over ten-man Derby County at Carrow Road.
City looked nervous early on but their opening goal on the quarter hour mark turned the flow of the first half firmly in their favour.
The striker, who had been named as December's Anglian Home Improvements Player of the Month before kick-off, picked up Jacob Murphy's short pass before picking his spot with his left foot.
It provided the Canaries with an injection of confidence; they kept the ball with increasing efficiency and creativity and should have gone in at the break further ahead but Scott Carson thwarted both Murphy and Steven Naismith and Alex Tettey hit the post.
Within a minute of the second half starting, Oliveira had hit the crossbar after capitalising on poor Derby defending, with City continuing in the same vein.
Russell Martin blasted over from inside the box and the hosts would have been made to pay but John Ruddy was at his best to keep out Thomas Ince.
Soon afterwards, Derby's hopes of forging a path back into the game were lessened more with the dismissal of former Norwich player Jacob Butterfield for a heavy challenge on Hoolahan.
The Canaries and Oliveira took maximum advantage; first the Portuguese international nodded in Jonny Howson's flick from Russell Martin's cross, then he blasted in for his treble from the edge of the box.
Oliveira was afforded a standing ovation when he was withdrawn in stoppage time, but his was one standout performance of many from the afternoon's action.
HOW THEY LINED UP
Neil reverted back to his favourted 4-2-3-1 formation as he made five changes from the stalemate at Brentford only two days ago.
City's boss elected for a central defensive partnership of captain Russell Martin and Timm Klose, with Ryan Bennett dropping to the bench.
Martin Olsson replaced the suspended Robbie Brady, but Jonny Howson returned from his own ban to partner Alex Tettey in the midfield two.
Murphy, Naismith and Wes Hoolahan came into the side behind lone frontman Oliveira, as Alex Pritchard and Cameron Jerome had to be content as substitutes.
Ex-Canary Bradley Johnson made his first return to Carrow Road since leaving in 2015, starting for the in-form Rams.
Butterfield endured a day to forget on his return to Norfolk, and it was his red card that snuffed out any hope of a comeback for the Rams.
Hoolahan was in an unthreatening position deep on the left flank when the central midfielder came charging in with a reckless challenge.
Referee Darren Bond, after consultation with his assistant, brandished the red card and City quickly made their numerical advantage count to cruise to a deserved triumph.
WHAT IT MEANS
This was perhaps City at their most fluent this season, a feat made even the more impressive by the importance placed on this match ahead of kick-off.
They needed a morale-boosting victory after a demoralising winter, and that's exactly what they got as to the man Neil's team produced the goods in front of their home supporters.
A second cleansheet in row was accomplished, and City's creative hub led by Hoolahan provided spark from start to finish up the other end.
: Nelson Oliveira (15, 78, 80)
: Ruddy; Pinto, Martin (c), Klose, Olsson; Tettey, Howson; Ja. Murphy, Naismith (Pritchard 90), Hoolahan; Oliveira (Jerome 90). Subs not used:
McGovern (GK), Whittaker, Bassong, Bennett, Jo. Murphy.
: Carson; Baird, Keogh (c), Pearce, Anya (Hanson 63); Johnson, Butterfield, Bryson; Ince (Bent 82), Russell (Weimann 45), Vydra. Subs not used
: Mitchell (GK), Shackell, Rawson, Vernam.
: Darren Bond
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