Everton 2, Norwich City 0
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Norwich City’s three-match unbeaten Premier League away run ground to a halt in a 2-0 defeat at Everton.
The Canaries were decidedly second best until the final quarter when Robert Snodgrass clipped the outside of Tim Howard’s post with a header, but the damage was already done after Gareth Barry’s thumping first-half hit and Kevin Mirallas’ sharp free kick just before the hour mark secured the points for Roberto Martinez’s side.
Hughton made three changes from the starting line up that featured at Crystal Palace in the Canaries last Premier League outing. Ryan Bennett replaced Michael Turner after the centre back was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Javier Garrido’s impressive display in the FA Cup tie against Fulham earned him a start positioned in front of Martin Olsson down Norwich’s left flank with Nathan Redmond relegated to the substitutes’ bench.
Hughton also paired Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper in tandem for their first Premier League start, with Wes Hoolahan dropping out from the Selhurst Park line up. The Irishman was included among the substitutes after featuring heavily during a build up dominated by transfer speculation linking him with a move to Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa.
Everton’s highly-rated midfielder Ross Barkley missed out with a toe injury but the Toffees did welcome back fellow England international Phil Jagielka from a hamstring injury to partner John Stones in central defence.
John Ruddy received a generous ovation from the home fans prior to kick-off on his return to the club where he spent five years. The England keeper gathered Seamus Coleman’s drilled 20-yard strike inside the opening minutes after the Republic of Ireland international dived inside Garrido. Romelu Lukaku then exchanged passes with Coleman but Olsson’s harassment forced the Belgian to choke his right footed effort wide.
Lukaku miscued a glancing header inside the City six-yard box after Mirallas checked inside Snodgrass with a degree of comfort before producing a probing cross to the far post.
Hooper spurned a glorious chance in the 15th minute for the visitors when his heavy first touch from Steven Whittaker’s raking diagonal pass allowed Howard to pounce at the striker’s feet seven yards out. Coleman’s far post header lacked the power to trouble Ruddy at the opposite end, with the Norwich keeper able to pluck the ball out of the air underneath his own bar from Leighton Baines’ deep centre.
Mirallas tried his luck from long range but Bennett’s headed clearance spared Ruddy any fresh alarms before Baines pulled a strike wide with Everton continuing to dictate proceedings. The hosts’ deservedly moved in front midway through the opening period when Barry was allowed to advance to the edge of the Norwich penalty area before unleashing a venomous left footed strike into Ruddy’s top right-hand corner.
City did carve out a decent reply that forced Howard to dive full length to claw away van Wolfswinkel’s curler after the Dutchman had linked with Leroy Fer and Snodgrass to pin Everton back. Van Wolfswinkel’s next intervention almost cost the Canaries when his square pass was intercepted by Lukaku inside the Norwich penalty area who fed Leon Osman but the Toffees’ playmaker screwed a shot wide on his left foot.
Sebastien Bassong’s last-ditch header dealt with Mirallas’ free kick with Everton now picking their way through almost at will. Fer was the latest City player to needlessly concede possession in midfield, which allowed the Blues’ to re-cycle possession and locate Coleman who sliced horribly wide at the far post.
Olsson’s defensive instincts were tested again five minutes before the interval with a far more orthodox clearance to frustrate Mirallas after Baines had again powered past the labouring Snodgrass. City did finally cause a degree of panic in the home ranks in the one added on minute prior to the interval when Hooper veered past Howard on the angle of the home six yard box but Snodgrass’ cross was hacked clear by Jagielka.
The England defender ambitiously tried his luck on the restart but a swinging right-foot shot sailed into the lower terraces. Bradley Johnson blocked James McCarthy’s goalbound strike in the 54th minute with the game settling back into the tempo of the opening period after Mirallas appeared to be on a different wavelength to the rest of the Norwich backline in reacting quickest to control Lukaku’s cross. The impressive Mirallas then gathered Pienaar’s clever back heel but his right foot strike proved wayward. Van Wolfswinkel raced down the side of Stones in the 58th minute for his first real sight of Howard’s goal but the Dutchman skied over from 10 yards.
Everton doubled their lead a minute later after Bennett was adjudged to have hauled down Baines – Mirallas expertly curling the 23-yard free kick up and over a five-man wall and beyond the sprawling Ruddy. Lukaku did have the ball in the net in the 65th minute but the assistant’s offside flag cut short home celebrations after Mirallas had pounced on Bassong’s attempt to bring a ball down on his chest deep in his own half. Bennett then bailed out Whittaker with a sliding near post block after the Scot’s attempted control saw the ball squirm towards Pienaar at the far post.
Redmond’s arrival did spark City’s best move of the game in the 72nd minute with Johnson, Hooper and van Wolfswinkel freeing the teenager but Howard saved with his legs before Everton scrambled clear. Johnson then roamed forward in a repeat of Barry’s movement for the opening goal but the Norwich midfielder’s strike from the same distance brushed Howard’s side netting. Johnson tested Howard again shortly afterwards with the home keeper belatedly pressed into action before Snodgrass’ header clipped the outside of Howard’s left-hand upright from Redmond’s delivery with the home fans increasingly restless in the midst of City’s late flourish. Van Wolfswinkel’s miscue nine yards out on the angle summed up his afternoon after Hooper’s initial touch dropped invitingly to his strike partner. The forward was withdrawn shortly after with Josh Murphy introduced for the final two minutes of normal time.
• Everton: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Jagielka, Stones, Barry, McCarthy, Mirallas, Pienaar (Naismith 71), Osman (Heitinga 69), Lukaku. Subs (not used): Joel, Hibbert, Oviedo, Gueye, Vellios.
• Booking: Stones (dissent, 45).
• Goals: Barry (23), Mirallas (59).
• Norwich: Ruddy, Whittaker, Olsson, Bennett, Bassong, Snodgrass, Fer, Johnson, Garrido (Redmond 67), Hooper, van Wolfswinkel (Josh Murphy 88). Subs (not used): Bunn, Martin, Fox, Hoolahan, Elmander.
• Bookings: Bennett (foul on Coleman, 63); Bassong (dissent, 90).
• Added on time: 1 minute / 3 minutes
• Referee: Kevin Friend (Leics)
• Attendance: 36,827