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Monday, September 17, 2012
It is so often said that the margin between success and failure in football is very narrow, but it is of little consolation to a manager still trying to secure his first league victory at his new club.
After their opening-day debacle, when they wilted woefully in 30-degree heat at Craven Cottage, Norwich City might so easily have won any or all of their last three Premier League matches under Chris Hughton if just one split-second incident in each game had panned out differently.
It might have been the thickness of the crossbar that denied Russell Martin against both Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham, the failure of referee Mark Halsey to spot a bit of premature shirt-swapping at White Hart Lane that robbed them of a penalty, the concentration and agility of two veteran goalkeepers in Brad Friedel and Jussi Jaaskelainen, or their own lack of composure in front of goal at key moments in those three games.
But frustrated managers, players and supporters have to deal with reality, not regret at what might have been, and the reality is that the Canaries go into a potentially daunting sequence of matches in 16th place in the table with three points out of a possible 12.
It is one point more than they had managed at the same stage last season, but whereas winnable matches against Bolton, Sunderland and Swansea were looming on the horizon 12 months ago, the programme from now to the end of October has a more testing look.
As such, one felt that home games against Queens Park Rangers and West Ham offered City their best chance of victory in the first three months of the campaign, and there will be a sense of unease that they failed to dispose of either side.
Despite Sam Allardyce’s assertion that “either side could have won it”, the Hammers seldom threatened to do so after a bright opening 20 minutes when there were some anxious moments in John Ruddy’s six-yard box.
Andrew Surman, recalled for the injured Anthony Pilkington, was close to giving City a fifth-minute lead after weaving into the West Ham area from Javier Garrido’s pass, but twice in the first quarter of the match the hosts lived dangerously.
First Ricardo Vaz Te crossed from the right, Ruddy parried the centre and Carlton Cole’s goalbound header was toe-poked away by Russell Martin, leaving Matthew Taylor to shoot wide when he might have done better. Ruddy then kept City on terms after 19 minutes with a fine one-handed save from Kevin Nolan.
City responded and a pinball sequence in the Hammers’ goalmouth brought the best out of Jaaskelainen when Robert Snodgrass, Sébastien Bassong, Grant Holt and Russell Martin all had shots blocked, three of them by the ’keeper.
But, six minutes before the break, City thought they should have had a penalty when Surman was upended by James Collins. Replays showed contact was right on the line, proving referee Chris Foy correct in awarding a free-kick on the edge of the area, which was wasted as Bradley Johnson slammed it into the wall.
Simeon Jackson brought a flying save out of Jaaskaleinen with a swerving effort five minutes after the break, after Bassong showed some deft footwork, but to the disapproval of the home crowd, it was the Canadian who made way for Steve Morison in Hughton’s first change.
Morison signalled his arrival when he won a header and volleyed just over the top from a distance, midway through the half, before Holt also made way for 19-year-old debutant Harry Kane.
West Ham substitute Matt Jarvis injected some life into their attacking game with a couple of worthwhile efforts, but it was City who finished stronger.
Kane showed neat footwork just outside the Hammers’ area before firing a couple of yards wide, then in the final minute he spurned the chance to clinch three points when City broke from a West Ham free-kick and Snodgrass fed the ball into his path, but he shot tamely at Jaaskelainen.
Kane almost atoned by setting up a chance for Snodgrass in stoppage time but for once the Scot’s first touch let him down and his shot was deflected wide.
Anoraks such as yours truly will note that City are still scoring well in the Fair Play stakes as they have yet to collect a yellow or red card in five games this season – but it is the lack of goals that will have occupied fans’ thoughts as they made their way home in the bright afternoon sunshine.