Alex Ward takes a look at the last-gasp draw with Everton and is impressed at the heart shown by the team, in stark contrast to those early season defeats…
Norwich`s unbeaten run continued on Saturday as Hughton`s men snatched a well-deserved point from yet another top outfit, bringing them ever closer to a Christmas outside the relegation battle.
The Canaries faced a relatively hampered Everton side, with notable attacking absentees in top-scorer Marouane Fellaini and the lively Kevin Mirallas off the team sheet, along with captain Phil Neville, who will miss the next 6-8 weeks due to knee surgery.
Nevertheless, The Toffees had won 10 out their last 14 games at Goodison after an imperious start to this year`s campaign. This, like last week`s fixture against Manchester United, was always pencilled in as ‘bonus game` ahead of a crunch string of upcoming fixtures.
As expected, Everton started brightly, enjoying the lion`s share of possession in the early minutes as Norwich languished deep in their own half. Within 15 minutes, Bryan Oviedo capitalised on a rare starting opportunity to link up with Steven Naismith to claim the match`s first goal after weak defending from Steven Whittaker and Bradley Johnson.
The Toffees looked likely to double their lead a number of times before the whistle with Steven Pienaar and the eternally-classy Leighton Baines coming close.
By contrast, City were offensively flat and suffered a opening to the game. Aside from Grant Holt spooning a shot wide after a powerful foray forward and Seb Bassong squandering a free header inside the six-yard box, there was nothing.
As such, Hughton`s men found themselves firmly on the back-foot as the interval approached, thoroughly outclassed by neat passing and purposeful play from Everton`s well-oiled attacking corps.
But Norwich sprung into life after the restart, pressing high to choke off Everton`s passing play. Perhaps best encapsulated by the tireless efforts of Alex Tettey, City displayed a renewed sense of defensive vitality, buttressed by impressive shifts from Javier Garrido and Ryan Bennett, filling in for the injured Michael Turner.
With the ball, the Canaries displayed a marked increase in tempo and gutsiness going forward, enjoying long spells of the second half on the front-foot.
Of course, Everton`s sharpness saw them break through the lines on a number of occasions, with the ever-dangerous Baines and Sylvain Distin testing the capabilities of a magnificent John Ruddy.
Returning to his former stomping ground, the Norwich keeper put in the sort of inspiring shift that initially earned him his place in the England spot, keeping Hughton`s men well in contention for points away from home.
Ruddy`s injury-induced substitution for Mark Bunn 8 minutes from time threatened to sour the occasion, particularly with a trip to Southampton less than a week away.
But at the game`s death – and with Everton looking likely to have survived a flurry of late Norwich offensives – none other than Seb Bassong, the linchpin on City`s defensive revival, launched himself onto the end of a looping Garrido free-kick to nod the ball beyond Tim Howard, opening his account in fine style – and with impeccable timing to boot.
By all accounts, Norwich showed on Saturday the sort of heart that their performances in the dark days of the early season had comprehensively lacked. Whilst the results have come at home, away days have been largely uninspiring at times, with City yet to claim an away victory.
Saturday`s clash seemed to be one to peter out into a stagnant defeat, but Norwich`s evolving depth in character ensured that the boys returned with a well-earned point to show from their visit to a damp and dreary Merseyside.
Win your home games, draw your away games; it`s a tried and tested method for survival that some would have thought impossible after the heavy defeats suffered earlier this term.
But whilst comparisons of Norwich`s current form with the relegation-assuring performances of old will continue to dominate the press, perhaps it`s time to re-cast the narrative.
Perhaps we should open our eyes to what Hughton`s Norwich have become as of late: a scalp-claiming team, unbeaten in six, with one of the most reliable defences in the league.