Norwich City will not wilt in the Premier League survival struggle
07:45 24 February 2014
It says everything about Chris Hughton and his Norwich City players that they are producing under the most extreme Premier League survival pressure.
"A season that appeared in grave danger of being suffocated by a despondency and a pessimism which threatened to engulf has given way to a win that now serves to restore much-needed belief for what is still a brutishly tough road ahead."
Norwich’s inability to marry genuine attacking potency with a heightened level of maturity running through most of their recent performances had combined to suck them closer to the bottom three and fuel the belief among many that they may not have enough to escape this time around.
That remains to be seen, even after a weekend when Norwich helped themselves whilst others around them obligingly faltered. But the way they swarmed over a Tottenham squad harbouring realistic top four aspirations offered irrefutable proof they can plot a route to safety through a hazardous run of fixtures.
Hughton’s squad were again resolute bordering on stubbornness, just like they had been against Manchester City last time out on home soil.
That vibrancy and positivity against the two of the very best has been matched by a home support who again found their collective voice when Hughton’s side needed it most in the eye of the second half storm.
Carrow Road has been transformed into a bear pit of raw emotion and passion at times during these past two home matches that had been lost for the majority of a campaign constructed on measured, controlled percentage football. Whether or not it is a response to the perilous situation Norwich found themselves in, City appear to have shed much of the cautiousness which irked so many.
What they had failed to eradicate during this current encouraging phase were the individual lapses which robbed them of points and arguably the wins they deserved at both Cardiff and West Ham. What set this latest offering apart was the delivery of a winner executed in such a cold, clinical fashion as to prompt the question why it has been seen so sparingly.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel harried Nabil Bentaleb into a miscue that was pounced on by the marauding Bradley Johnson who fed Robert Snodgrass to curl a left-footed finish around the diving frame of Tottenham’s French international keeper Hugo Lloris. It was a sliver of precision in a season of fitful attacking endeavour. Yet the truth is Snodgrass possesses a degree of technical proficiency shared by many in Norwich’s squad.
Van Wolfswinkel justified Hughton’s faith with a shift rich in industry and a willingness to press Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen to such an extent that it felt at times there must be two Dutch strikers on the pitch. The 25-year-old deserved his standing ovation despite another blank afternoon in front of goal where his one and only real half-chance came in the opening seconds when he tried to contort his body to divert Sebastien Bassong’s flick. Such was the softening up process, Gary Hooper’s late cameo allowed Norwich to finish the stronger with Johnson and Nathan Redmond denied by the woodwork and Lloris’ agility.
It was an afternoon when Hughton’s men shaded enough of those personal battles that decide games at the highest level.
Much of Tottenham’s power and dominance is sourced from a midfield that plays with an arrogance and whiff of the matador as they toy with opponents through blurring changes of speed and direction. Aaron Lennon cut inside at every opportunity, but in escaping the attentions of City’s full-backs he found an imposing barrier in Bassong and Joseph Yobo. Mousa Dembele has tortured Norwich on numerous previous occasions and Spurs could even afford to keep Christian Eriksen in reserve after the Dane helped destroy City in the corresponding fixture, but Norwich were equal to the challenge this time.
Leroy Fer and City’s wide players were disciplined out of possession and productive outlets when Norwich sought to lift the siege in the aftermath of Snodgrass’ incision. Alex Tettey and Johnson, stationed behind them, added muscular ballast to a defence marshalled superbly by John Ruddy. How different the scene from Upton Park when Ruddy’s misjudgement gifted James Collins that damaging late breakthrough. Here, the England keeper’s decision-making and reactions was magnificent. Twice he raced from his line to foil Emmanuel Adebayor with brave, perfectly-timed diving stops to halt the in-form Togo international. Nacer Chadli was then denied from point blank range as Tottenham threatened with each fresh incursion played out against a voluminous backdrop.
That second, pressure-relieving goal may have eluded Hughton’s side in the final throes but the sight of Wes Hoolahan’s arrival for his first outing since a tiresome transfer tango merely embellished the feelgood factor around this performance. Jonny Howson could even be kept in reserve following his lengthy injury lay-off. City will have the experience of Michael Turner and Jonas Gutierrez to call on for the run-in and the youth of Ryan Bennett and hopefully his namesake Elliott.
A season that appeared in grave danger of being suffocated by a despondency and a pessimism which threatened to engulf has given way to a win that now serves to restore much-needed belief for what is still a brutishly tough road ahead.