The Tuckster reports on the narrow loss to Manchester City in a pulsating game at Carrow Road.
With a gap of seven points having opened up between Manchester City and Manchester United at the top of the table, the nation`s media cited this as a game that the blues “must win.”
After such a recent good run of form and only the narrowest of defeats against Chelsea on Boxing day, Norwich City however, would fancy their chances at home despite the calibre of opposition.
After Grant Holt worryingly failed a lunchtime fitness test with a reoccurrence of his hamstring injury, Steve Morison would lead the line for an otherwise unchanged Canary side.
With only four minutes on the clock, Norwich found themselves two nil down and my thoughts turned to the same fixture last season – “Not again” I thought.
After just 85 seconds, a long ball out of defence found Aguero, who ran towards the City area and crossed to Silva. The Spaniard`s sublime touch found Dzeko completely unmarked and he side footed past Bunn.
The second was very harsh on Norwich. Wes Hoolahan gave the ball away cheaply to Kompany as a Canary attack broke down and the blues skipper charged forward.
He over ran the ball a bit near the centre circle and Johnson tried to nick it. Kompany launched himself two footed and won the ball as he crashed through Johnson – it was a foul all day long. Johnson was left in a crumpled heap as the ball was sent to Aguero.
Bunn came rushing out to meet him and forced him wide of goal. Defenders got back but Bunn was slow getting back between the sticks and the simplest of passes to Dzeko saw a right foot pass/shot into an empty net for his second of the afternoon.
The first goal was terrific and showed what that sort of expenditure will get you in the football world. The second was firstly, a foul on Johnson and then errors at the back. Not the best of starts against the League Champions.
Norwich didn`t fall apart though and started to compose themselves over the next few minutes.
On 14 minutes, Kompany was adjudged to have fouled Snodgrass on the edge of the area, although I thought he got the ball, and the ref gave a free kick.
Pilkington stepped up and his low shot deflected off Clichy and into the net – City had hope and it was a lifeline.
Norwich started to become more solid although Man City were always a threat going forward. Toure fired narrowly wide and Garrido forced Bunn into a great save from what Mancini thought was a back pass – if it was it was a real tough one for the ref to call, such was the pace of the effort.
The game`s major talking point came on 43 minutes when Bassong challenged Nasri near the half way line. The Norwich defender put in a strong tackle and won the ball but almost cut Nasri in half. He rolled around on the floor clutching his leg for about 5 seconds before leaping to his feet after being miraculously healed.
He jumped towards Bassong and put his head on Sebba`s forehead. As the two players “talked” to each other, Nasri clearly made an aggressive movement with his head before Kompany pulled them apart.
The ref booked Bassong before consulting with his linesman and then showed Nasri a straight red card. He argued and refused to go for ages before eventually trudging off to a chorus of cat calls from the crowd. The bottom line is that you just can`t do that and both player, manager and fans know it – he gave the ref a chance to make the decision to send him off. It was very foolish.
Forty five minutes to play with ten men? Game on. In the confusion surrounding the red card, Steve Morison limped off with a thigh injury and was replaced by Harry Kane.
Norwich started the second half with renewed belief but were punished on 50 minutes when Man City restored their two goal lead.
A long ball forward by Toure was looking to find Aguero, who had Bassong for company.
As the ball dropped out of the air it dropped onto Sebba`s shoulder and bounced right in front of Aguero – as Bunn raced out, the little striker coolly lifted the ball over the keeper and into the net. It was harsh on City but again showed what this quality of player can do.
Once again though the Norwich head`s did not drop and they got back into the game on 63 minutes when a short Hoolahan corner was played to Snodgrass. He lifted a cross to the far post where Bassong headed the ball back across goal where Russell Martin nodded the ball past Hart.
Just four minutes later though and Man City extended their lead again as the crowd screamed for off-side. Dzeko was put in by a long ball and raced towards goal. He shot from a tight angle and the ball hit the post, hit Mark Bunn and ended up bouncing into the net – it was a hammer blow and Bunn collapsed backwards on the floor. We all knew how unlucky that was, and it turned out Dzeko was on-side.
But once again, with plenty of time left, Norwich kept going. The Man City fans, who had been so vocal early on were silenced again by Russell Martin on 75 minutes.
A spell of Norwich pressure resulted in a goal mouth scramble and Martin was on hand to deflect Johnson`s shot straight into Joe Hart`s face and it crashed off him into the goal.
It looked like we`d get a point, it really did. But Man City then realised they were up against it and started to wind the clock down at every opportunity. If the ball got anywhere near the Norwich box it was taken into the corner. The three Man City substitutions took forever as the players took fairy steps to leave the pitch, despite the ref trying to usher them off the field.
Norwich had scored two goals from aerial efforts and the visitors were clearly weak in this area but in the last few minutes, several chances to test this again were wasted.
Snodgrass in particular spoiled an otherwise exemplary day`s work with two or three poor deliveries.
It shows how much of a threat Norwich were that both Chelsea and Man City had to resort to such tactics to ensure the points. I won`t moan about it too much because I believe it`s called “being professional” in such circumstances.
It shows how far we`ve come that we are very disappointed after two narrow losses against two of the League`s big hitters.
Make no mistake, Man City were given a real scare here and if they do win the title this season, this game will be one they got away with.
Norwich showed real determination and steel to come back from such a torrid first five minutes – many lesser teams would`ve folded completely.
One player we really missed was Grant Holt – he would`ve loved this and with him on the field we may have got the extra goal or even more.
Steve Morison did fine before he had to leave the field and showed enough to appease most of his detractors. Harry Kane is young and full of running but struggled against Kompany, as you`d expect. The Belgian is a wonderful defender and you need experience to take on such players, as I say, we missed Holty to match up against him.
With Holt and Morison described as “doubtful” for the trip to West Ham on Tuesday, we now have a problem up front. With the system we play, a striker who can hold the ball up is required. Hopefully the two big lads will be back soon – in the meantime a lot looks to be resting on Harry Kane`s shoulders. It`s fortunate that he has just returned to fitness and also that the transfer window is opening.
I am proud of what my team did yesterday, they pushed the League Champions right to the limit and so nearly came away with a point or even more. But I am also disappointed that we lost – that, my Canary supporting friends, is the real measure of what we have accomplished and where we are heading.
OTBC and Happy New Year to you all.