The Tuckster on a priceless three points for City in a last minute thriller against Everton…
Before I arrived at the ground for this match against Everton, I was wondering whether or not Chris Hughton would opt to start with both Holt and Becchio.
If so, it would mean a change of formation and someone would need to be dropped to fit in the second striker.
As Hughton has steadfastly stuck with a 4-5-1 for the majority of the season this would be a major decision but owing to our recent shyness in front of goal one that needed to be taken.
On seeing the team sheet I was pleased to see Becchio up top with Holt but troubled by Wes Hoolahan lining up as a left winger – I`ve not seen Wes play this role with any real aplomb yet and with Pilkington available it seemed a strange one.
However, Wes has been in such good form this season I can understand why the manager wanted him in the team. Alex Tettey didn`t make it after a knock in training so Johnny Howson partnered Johnson in the centre.
As the game kicked off, Everton`s slick passing and retention of the ball quickly became a feature of this match and would continue to be so for the majority of the afternoon.
Fellaini has been such a threat for the Toffees this season and I`ve seen him a few times where he has been virtually unplayable.
Johnson and particularly Howson struggled to get a handle on him all game. He was always available and due to the sheer size of the man he was able to hold the ball up, flick it on or pass it around with ease for 75 minutes or so of this game. Mind you, when Bradley Johnson`s high foot cut his knee he showed his usual loss of control and the red mist came down.
He ran at Johnson and swung both his arms at the City midfielder, catching him in the face. Johhno went down onto his haunches holding his face and City won a free kick. The Belgian was very lucky not to get a card.
His partners in midfield, Pienaar, Osman, Gibson and Naismith also caused trouble for the City players and although clear cut chances were in short supply, mostly due to resolute defending form our back four, they were always a threat.
Up top, Jelavic looked lively despite not having scored in his previous ten appearances and Mark Bunn had to be alert to save with his feet when the Croatian smartly took a long ball out of the air.
On the left side, Wes was struggling to make any sort of impact in the game and Naismith and Coleman were often ganging up on Garrido. Don`t get me wrong, Wes was trying very hard but he`s just not that sort of player.
With the scores still level though a couple of chances fell City`s way, Snodgrass had a shot blocked by the diving Distin and Holt`s low effort was saved by Howard.
As I said, clear cut chances were in short supply for both sides but when Leighton Baines strode forward on the Everton left in the 39th minute and sent in a lovely cross, City were in trouble.
The cross found the unmarked Leon Osman who headed past the diving Bunn from 10 yards out to open the scoring.
It was a little disappointing to be a goal down at half time but being totally objective, Everton`s possession had been far better and more frequent than Norwich City`s.
The first ten minutes of the second half saw Everton try to turn the screw and the City defence rocked and creaked as the crowd howled for the home manager to make a change.
Now, Chris Hughton has often been criticised for making substitutions too late in a game to be of any use. Not today though.
On 58 minutes, Becchio was replaced by Kei Kamara to rapturous applause. Becchio had done well enough in the first half and won plenty of high balls and flick ons – he`d done okay.
Within two minutes of his arrival, Kamara had the crowd on their feet as he launched an acrobatic scissor kick at Howard. It was a tight angle and Howard saved easily but it looked promising.
As the clock ran down, Kamara made more and more of an impact. He headed just wide from a Hoolahan reverse cross and the Everton defence started to drop deeper and deeper as City`s belief grew.
On 73 minutes, Hughton made the change that I thought we had needed all along when he replaced Wes with Anthony Pilkington.
The side now looked much more balanced as City pushed the blue shirts back.
On 80 minutes, two blokes in front of me got up and left – I couldn`t believe it and my wife said to me “I hope we win 2-1.” It seemed fanciful at the time…
On 84 minutes, Pilkington got the ball on the left and beautifully cut inside two defenders before checking back again. I thought he should`ve crossed before checking again but he won a corner.
Snodgrass sent over a lovely ball that saw Kamara literally rise like a salmon – I`m not kidding when I tell you that this was a colossal leap. Fellaini was supposed to be marking him but got no-where near him which allowed Kamara to thump a powerful header low past Howard.
Cue rapturous applause and shouting that caused me to struggle to sing any louder.
Kamara fell to his knees at the enormity of it all. The first Sierra Leone player to score in the Premier League was mobbed by his new team mates before rising to do an impromptu dance celebration with Sebba Bassong. When he`d finished dancing he gave the fans a “heart” hand signal.
Several comments I read about this signing were very negative a few weeks ago and I appreciate it is early days but do you still think Chris Hughton doesn`t know what he`s doing?
Now it was game on. I would`ve taken a point before kick off but the City players smelt blood and went for the kill.
Everton were now basically defending their penalty area and could hardly get out of it. Holt had a glorious chance blocked by the acrobatic Distin for a corner in injury time and I wondered if that was it.
The resulting corner was half cleared before coming out to Pilkington who played the ball inside to Russell Martin who was somehow on the left hand edge of the area.
Martin`s right foot cross was knocked down by Bassong, who ended up being man of the match, and instinctively swept past Howard by who else, but Grant Holt from 6 yards out.
It was an ecstatic finish for the yellow and green army as Hughton and the bench erupted and ended up on the pitch.
On the balance of play, Everton were the better team but you should expect that. We often hear that David Moyes does ever so well on a budget but don`t forget that Fellaini cost around £15m on his own.
Talking of David Moyes, afterwards he was complaining that the ref had played 3 minutes and “16 or 20 seconds extra” when there was supposed to be only 3 minutes. Talk about sour grapes from Moyes. I know he was annoyed, Everton should`ve closed that game out with a win in an ideal world but they didn`t and there is nothing sweeter than a last minute, injury time winner – it feels like you`ve won the world cup!
This was a vitally important win for City and now puts us on 32 points – most of those below us lost and we have extended the gap over the bottom three to 8 points. I reckon that two more wins will do it – I think that a total of 38 points will probably see a team safe this season. And there are only two relegation places left to fight over as QPR have almost certainly already gone.
This win was a triumph for Hughton who showed that he is not always a defensively minded coach – he made his subs in good time and they affected the outcome. They won us the game.
And what about Kamara? That boy has made the perfect start to his time with Canaries. He has scored a terrific goal and shown enough to hopefully silence the doubters about the quality of MLS players. I know it is only early days but even so, what a performance.
Next up are Manchester United, the Champions elect. It does not get any tougher than that. They may rest a few key players for the upcoming Real Madrid game but even so, they have a quality squad.
Chris Hughton will now have a big decision to make. Does he go back to 4-5-1 or does he give it a go with two up front? I personally would go 4-5-1 to try to contain them, any sort of a result there would be awesome.
But until then I shall revel this week in the feeling of winning the World Cup!