Friday, December 28, 2012
Two successive defeats in the last week brought Norwich City’s fantastic 10-game unbeaten run to an end – but there were plenty of positives to take from each game, regardless of the results.
Norwich followed the defeat at The Hawthorns last weekend with a tough Boxing Day fixture against European champions Chelsea, fresh from their 8-0 demolition job of Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa.
Hughton recalled the fit-again Grant Holt and kept faith with the majority of the XI who had been integral to the club’s fine form.
It was to be another tight game, decided by a goal of real quality that sent Chelsea back to London with the three points. Juan Mata’s 25-yard strike was all that separated the two sides, and that fact in itself will surely offer encouragement to players, staff and fans alike.
Chelsea’s squad contains an array of attacking talent, from Juan Mata and Oscar to Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres. They are arguably one of the most irresistible attacking forces in Europe, having scored 36 goals in the league this term.
So, in limiting the number of clear-cut chances the Blues had, Norwich deserve real credit, and it proves just how much the boys have improved defensively since the opening months of the season.
There were very few chances that came the way of the lads, as was to be expected, but the industry and spirit shown by Norwich will stand them in good stead for the forthcoming New Year’s fixtures.
The 2-1 defeat at The Hawthorns to Steve Clarke’s West Brom turned out to be a closely-contested affair, with few chances for either side.
For long periods of the game Norwich kept the ball immaculately and controlled proceedings, and their impressive play was rewarded with a deserved lead as Robert Snodgrass scored his third goal of the season with a brilliantly struck free-kick that escaped the grasp of a stretching Ben Foster.
A somewhat more direct Albion began to feel their way into the game and just before the half-time interval they levelled, in undoubtedly frustrating circumstances for Chris Hughton and the players.
The goal came from a Chris Brunt corner, one that should not have been awarded, with Alex Tettey incorrectly being adjudged to have headed the ball out of play. Brunt’s testing delivery was met by Jonas Olsson, his header being excellently tipped onto the bar by Mark Bunn. Unfortunately, though, Zoltan Gera volleyed the ensuing rebound home from close range. To make matters even more disappointing, it looked as if Peter Odemwingie had fouled Bunn as he attempted to save Gera’s goal-bound effort.
The second half was rather more tentative than the first, with fewer chances.
The Baggies secured all three points with eight minutes remaining through a powerful Romelu Lukaku header. The Chelsea loanee was just too strong for Javier Garrido and left Bunn with no chance.
The unbeaten run had come to an end, but it was a strong display from the boys in what was a difficult fixture. After all, West Brom had won six of their nine home games before the visit of the Canaries.
• SIMPLE CALCULATION PROVES HOW FAR CITY HAVE COME
At the halfway mark of the season the Canaries sit 11th in the Barclays Premier League with an impressive haul of 25 points from 19 games.
It’s worth bearing in mind that at the same point last season the Canaries had 22 points, which just goes to show how impressive the lads have been.
After a summer of transition it was expected, from the outside, that Norwich would struggle to capture the form of last season, but all credit to Chris Hughton and his players, they have proved the doubters very wrong indeed.
Next up for Norwich tomorrow is the visit of Premier League champions Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s men are enduring a tough time at present, coming off the back of a Boxing Day defeat at the hands of Sunderland. City have been far from at their best for the majority of the season, crashing out of the Champions League with a meagre three points and currently trailing their neighbours by seven points in domestic matters.
However, Mancini has a squad that rivals any in the world in terms of quality and depth, and it is surely only a matter of time before the likes of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and David Silva start hitting top form.
Last season’s meeting at Carrow Road was a major disappointment for the lads with the visitors running out resounding 6-1 winners, courtesy of a Carlos Tevez hat-trick on his return from an extended golfing holiday in his native Argentina.
Tevez has proved to be in much better physical condition this season and has weighed in with seven goals and 10 assists.
It will be a tough ask for the Canaries, but if they can keep up their impressive defensive record and keep Tevez and his compatriot Aguero at bay, they will have a strong chance of taking points against the Citizens.