, Norwich City Writer
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Norwich City held title-challenging Manchester City to claim a battling point in a pulsating 0-0 Premier League contest at Carrow Road.
The Canaries defended manfully for prolonged spells against the high class visitors and could have even won it in a frenetic final few minutes with Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Anthony Pilkington both spurning decent openings urged on by a raucous home support.
Hughton’s starting line up contained four changes from the team that lost 2-1 at Cardiff City last weekend. Joseph Yobo came in for his Canaries’ debut with Ryan Bennett ruled out through a thigh injury. Yobo only joined the club on Monday after completing a short term loan move from Turkish side Fenerbache and the Nigerian international partnered Sebastien Bassong at the heart of the Norwich backline.
Leroy Fer came back into midfield in place of Johan Elmander, who was missing from the matchday squad along with Robert Snodgrass and Jonas Gutierrez - Nathan Redmond and Pilkington restored to the line up in those wide midfield areas.
Manchester City arrived at Carrow Road without injured duo Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho. Manuel Pellegrini opted to deploy Alvaro Negredo up front with Stevan Jovetic in support and Edin Dzeko, who had scored three goals against Norwich in his last four meetings, starting the match on the bench. Gael Clichy also came in for Aleksandar Kolarov at left-back and Martin Demichelis switched to central defence in Mataja Nastasic’s absence, with James Milner drafted into midfield for the visitors.
Hughton looked to match up the title-challengers from the start with Alex Tettey and Bradley Johnson paired as two defensively-minded holding midfielders behind a three of Fer flanked by Pilkington and Redmond supporting Gary Hooper.
Norwich started on the front foot with Martin Olsson forcing a corner inside the first two minutes but Redmond’s weak delivery was easily cleared by Demichelis at his near post. Yaya Toure picked out Clichy with a raking pass in behind Russell Martin but David Silva was crowded out after an initial slip by Yobo.
Olsson then hammered a rising strike against the head of Pablo Zabaleta from 20 yards after Redmond had turned Jesus Navas. Redmond wastefully ballooned over in the 16th minute with Joe Hart to beat 12 yards out after Hooper rolled in the teenager following Clichy’s original slip.
Olsson then produced a tempting outswinging cross which Clichy was forced to head behind with the Lower Barclay in full voice given the hosts’ vibrant start. Hooper smashed the ball home from the resulting corner but the striker was correctly adjudged to be in an offside position after Fer’s close range header was parried by Hart.
Milner was fortunate to escape a yellow card for hauling down Fer with the Dutchman leading the breakout; referee Moss’ leniency did not meet with the approval of the home support. Norwich continued to carry a threat in wide areas, but Redmond’s final ball let him down again on the half-hour mark after a sharp initial trick to escape the close attentions of Clichy.
Norwich’s momentary lapse of concentration shortly afterwards almost proved costly when Zabaleta powered onto Jovetic’s ricocheted pass intended for Negredo, but dragged past John Ruddy’s far post. Bassong then hacked behind after the visitors worked Navas into space down the right flank.
Negredo slammed a header against the top of Norwich’s bar in the 36th minute after Demichelis’ glancing header diverted a Navas corner invitingly towards his compatriot stationed barely five yards out. The Spanish international then unleashed a fearsome left footed strike from 18 yards which brushed the top of Ruddy’s side netting with the England keeper diving to his left.
The hosts’ were increasingly pinned deep inside their own final third as Manchester City moved menacingly through the gears in the closing stages of the opening period. Bassong’s wild clearance dropped at the feet of Silva but the home captain regained his composure to clear his lines.
Ruddy then kept his side level in the 43rd minute with an excellent low stop to deny Jovetic after Silva had picked out the forward lurking undetected on the edge of the Norwich penalty area. Hooper’s speculative shot struck Vincent Kompany at the opposite end from Tettey’s hopeful clearance but it was a rare incursion as the visitors continued to dictate, but Norwich’s committed efforts were fully appreciated by the home support on the half-time whistle.
Jovetic refused to give up on a lost cause straight after the restart to force a corner, but Silva’s set piece was hacked away by Olsson. Navas linked seamlessly with Silva to get behind the home backline but Johnson was alert to cut out the cross with a sliding block.
Olsson superbly followed Johnson’s lead in the 57th minute when he threw himself in front of Navas six yards out after Redmond and Martin failed to sense the gathering danger down the Norwich right. Martin did enough seconds later to distract Negredo at the far post with the Spanish striker powering onto Milner’s teasing cross.
Norwich’s growing confidence was underlined on the hour mark when Martin rampaged forward before controlling Hooper’s back heel and hammering a volley from 16 yards out just wide. The visitors’ responded by introducing Dzkeo for Jovetic. Johnson denied the Bosnian who rifled a venomous strike on his left foot shortly after his introduction. Hooper made way for van Wolfswinkel in the 68th minute after the former Celt required prolonged treatment following a block tackle, although Norwich’s club record signing had spent the previous 10 minutes vigorously warming up.
Milner tried his luck again from 20 yards but Tettey blocked one more, with the scale of Norwich’s desperation to resist now approaching epic proportions as Manchester City thundered forward. Moss’ patience finally ran out with Milner in the 72nd minute when he was cautioned for hauling down Olsson as the Swede tried to relieve the growing siege.
Dzeko lined up Martin but his attempted drag into the opposite corner dropped a yard wide of Ruddy’s near post.
Tettey had to bail out Martin at the expense of a yellow card after the full-back dallied long enough for newly-arrived Aleksandar Kolarov to bear down on the Norwich penalty area, but Manchester City’s intricate free kick was cleared by Tettey.
Dzeko’s far post header bounced up and over in the aftermath before Moss went back to book van Wolfswinkel for his attempted challenge on Milner. Navas then dragged wide in the 82nd minute with Manchester City surging forward in waves.
Ruddy gathered Milner’s low cross after Silva found a sliver of space in front of the massed home ranks before Kolarov miscued to huge applause from the home fans to give the men in yellow and green a breather. Van Wolfswinkel reacted angrily to a tussle with Toure in the first of three additional minutes with television replays appearing to show the Ivorian kick the striker in the back. Norwich remarkably had the energy to twice threaten an improbable late winner when Redmond burst through but his low cross somehow evaded the sliding van Wolfswinkel from point blank range sandwiched between two Manchester City defenders before Pilkington then rolled Zabaleta but fired over as he aimed for Hart’s far post from an acute angle.
• Norwich: Ruddy, Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson, Redmond, Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington (Whittaker 90), Fer, Hooper (van Wolfswinkel 68). Subs (not used): Bunn, Hoolahan, Garrido, Becchio, Josh Murphy.
• Bookings: Tettey (foul on Kolarov, 80); van Wolfswinkel (foul on Milner, 81).
• Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Navas, Milner, Toure, Silva, Jovetic (Dzeko 61), Negredo (Kolarov 77). Subs (not used): Pantilimon, Richards, Rodwell, Lopes, Lescott.
• Booking: Milner (foul on Olsson, 74).
• Added on time: 2 minutes / 3 minutes
• Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)
• Attendance: 26,832