RATINGS: Norwich City teach Blackburn Rovers their favourite lesson
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Norwich City 3, Blackburn Rovers 3: And so to lesson 10 of the Premier League’s school of football…
It’s fair to say the progress of this term’s Norwich City pupils has been impressive – learning the ropes of an English football top flight that has seen many a new class fall by the wayside at the end of year reckoning.
Some of Saturday’s teachings were obvious – more of that later. Others were predictable; the rest unexpected.
Of course, some would’ve had you believe the afternoon at Carrow Road was going to be one of the easier 90 minutes this term.
After all, the visitors are supposed to be a club in crisis. Protests have dogged Blackburn’s season, with cries for manager Steve Kean to be sacked as Rovers’ apparently limp – even this early – towards going one worse than their last-day escape from relegation last season.
Arriving in Norfolk bottom of the table, without a league win in four. Even as top-fight new boys, the expectancy was on the Canaries.
So to lesson one – don’t believe everything you hear.
Rovers set about their work as if all that had gone before their weekend was a smokescreen.
Bright and inventive, Mauro Formica whistled an effort from 20 yards narrowly over John Ruddy’s bar inside two minutes.
The City keeper had already spilled one cross before genuine Rovers giant Christopher Samba caused problems by simply loitering in the box. Ayegbeni Yakubu saw an effort blocked as Rovers buzzed. The Canaries – unchanged for the sixth game running – responded in kind; Martin Olsson timely with a block from Steve Morison.
It was frenetic stuff – summed up neatly by Gaël Givet and Morten Gamst Pedersen, who collided going for the same ball.
Both received nasty headaches for their trouble and like 22 children realising their over-exuberance could get someone hurt, both sides settled down soon after – just in time for lesson two: take your chances.
City had the best of them in the first half, but were wasteful.
Anthony Pilkington was lively, seeing his volley deflected wide and setting up Elliott Bennett, who could only side-foot into the side-netting with time and space.
In between, David Fox rasped a brilliant half-volley low and fast – goalkeeper Paul Robinson turned it around the post in style.
For Rovers the lesson was less pertinent. Yes, Yakubu skewed over horribly when put through while Pedersen’s free-kick had Ruddy back-peddling all the way to the limit of his goal-line – the keeper kept it out said the linesman; the Rovers fans directly behind disagreed.
But in the second of three added minutes, Junior Hoilett elevated himself to top of the class with a wonderful effort. The Canadian winger was shepherded along the edge of the box by Kyle Naughton, but still managed to let fly with a sizzling right-footer that gave Ruddy little chance.
Morison took note and raised his own game seven minutes after the restart with a picture of good technique.
From Wes Hoolahan’s centre and a partial clearance, the Wales striker took one touch to control and his second to ping a sublime strike off the underside of the bar and beyond Robinson.
Game on… Well almost, but not quite. Pilkington’s cross saw Bradley Johnson’s close-range header appear to be blocked by a Rovers arm before bobbling through to Robinson – muted penalty claims were turned down by referee Anthony Taylor, fresh from his own first-half tumble.
And so arrived lesson three – don’t switch off.
On 62 minutes City did. Formica got between the lines and fed Yakubu, who didn’t have far to travel – instead drilling a smart effort low and disappointingly beyond Ruddy at his near post.
If things looked bad then, it looked all over two minutes later. Leon Barnett tripped Hoilett on the Rovers left, getting booked for his troubles, before the centre-back failed to get to grips with Samba at the far post. Pedersen’s fine delivery, free header, three yards out: 3-1.
This isn’t League One nor Championship, so that was supposed to be that. But then, Rovers probably weren’t aware of lesson four – one honed in the depths City have found themselves in recent years: never write off Norwich.
Eight minutes to go, Johnson played a one-two off Radosav Petrovic – on the pitch for a matter of seconds, and reacting to the ball in said style – before his effort outrageously looped up off Jason Lowe and over an almost prematurely rooted Robinson.
Even then Rovers seemed capable of seeing the game out – until City’s very own cult hero added another notch to his Carrow Road status.
Fourth minute of five added, Johnson’s free-kick. Fair pressure from Morison and Grant Holt – a handful since his 68th-minute introduction. Nzonzi flapped, literally. Handball. Penalty.
Rovers cried foul at the harsh decision but City – with fresh memories of those spot kicks against Wigan, Stoke and West Brom – did not and do not care.
A pressure situation of the highest order, yet Holt delivered a penalty of nerveless accuracy.
One point won – only time will tell how crucial it is.
And for that, perhaps the real lesson learned on Saturday was whether it is Holt, Paul Lambert or Norwich City in general – you can trust them. Still.
• Player ratings…
• Norwich – John Ruddy 5: A few fumbles too many, will be disappointed with Rovers’ second.
Kyle Naughton 7: Given a tough time by Olsson and Hoilett, but came out with credit.
Leon Barnett 5: Deservedly booked, then left Samba free for Blackburn’s third.
Russell Martin 6: Solid effort, tried to push City forward when he could.
Marc Tierney 7: Mr Reliable; kept things simple and supported attacks well.
David Fox 6: Performed his role well enough but sacrificed along with system.
Bradley Johnson 6: Work cut out with Pedersen and Nzonzi; goal rewarded his efforts.
Elliott Bennett 6: Should have opened his City account first half; drifted out of it.
Wes Hoolahan 8: Drove City forward all game and battled brilliantly against giants.
Anthony Pilkington 7: Excellent first half, great delivery and movement, but faded.
Steve Morison 6: Sublime goal and worked hard, but little else around that.
Subs: Grant Holt 8, Andrew Crofts 6, Simeon Jackson 7
• Blackburn – Paul Robinson 7: Could do little with City’s three goals, commanding for the rest.
Jason Lowe 7: Given a tough time by Pilkington first half, unlucky with deflection.
Christopher Samba 7: A rock at the back, and a handful at the other end too.
Gaël Givet 6: Rarely beaten and often first to the ball; recovered from injury.
Martin Olsson 6: Better going forward than at the back; good support for Hoilett.
Ruben Rochina 7:Classy on the ball and Rovers missed him when taken off.
Steven Nzonzi 8: Penalty was hard luck after a dominating performance. Superb.
Morten Gamst Pedersen 7: A classy operator whose delivery was as dangerous as they come.
Junior Hoilett 7: Stunning goal and willing runner; key to Rovers’ successes.
Mauro Formica 7: Lively just off Yakubu, made good use of his time and space.
Ayegbeni Yakubu 6: Trademark finish, but should’ve scored two; laboured at times.
Subs: David Dunn 6, David Goodwillie 5, Radosav Petrovic 5