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Monday, November 26, 2012
It might have been thought that Norwich City’s habit of grabbing vital late goals had been broken with the departure of their previous manager, but their ability to deliver late twists lives on.
Sébastien Bassong’s last-minute equaliser against Everton at rainswept Goodison Park was not the first time they have come from behind in the closing stages of a game this season, though it was certainly the latest they have left it – a matter of seconds before the clock ticked round to 90 minutes.
Robert Snodgrass earned a point at Tottenham five minutes from time, Michael Turner secured a draw at Aston Villa when it began to look as if City would leave empty-handed, and the Capital One Cup tie against Spurs at Carrow Road was turned on its head by two goals and a penalty save in the final six minutes.
If nothing else, it demonstrates that the Canaries are no more prepared to admit defeat under Chris Hughton than they were during the reign of his predecessor, and while they were not at their best for long spells against the team fifth in the Premier League table, they were at least rewarded for their refusal to pack up and head for home.
That City were still in a position to press forward for a point as the game entered the dying minutes was due in no small part to their goalkeeper and their goalscorer.
John Ruddy shrugged off concerns over a knee injury and, after he was given no chance by Everton’s Steven Naismith in the 12th minute, went on to produce some important saves against his former club before succumbing to a thigh injury eight minutes from time, when he was replaced by substitute ’keeper Mark Bunn.
And Bassong was a commanding figure at the back until the moment he added his weight to the assault on Javier Garrido’s perfectly-judged free-kick and headed his first goal for the Canaries, pushing his team-mates aside in mid-celebration to perform his own dance routine for the benefit of visiting fans.
Such a happy conclusion for the travelling supporters had looked unlikely in the opening half, when Everton appeared eager to make amends for their defeat at Reading and City looked distinctly second best.
Leon Osman, scorer in the corresponding fixture last season, signalled his intent when he curled a shot just wide after little more than a minute.
Everton took the lead, however, after an uncharacteristic mistake by City full-back Steven Whittaker. As Thomas Hitzlsperger delivered the perfect pass down the left flank, the full-back allowed Bryan Oviedo to drift past him close to the corner flag and his low cross was perfect for Naismith to fire into the roof of the net. It was the first goal City had conceded in 346 minutes of Premier League action.
It could have been 2-0 on 16 minutes when England full-back Leighton Baines, the best player on show, waltzed through to test Ruddy with a shot that the ’keeper parried, Osman’s bobbling follow-up effort landing on the roof of the net.
City skipper Grant Holt, given the unenviable task of grappling with French giant Sylvain Distin in the role of lone striker, rode two challenges to create a decent opening after 25 minutes but then blazed well wide, and the bulk of the action up to the interval was in the other goalmouth.
Osman tested Ruddy with a snapshot from just outside the Norwich area, the ’keeper saved bravely at the feet of Naismith and Osman, again, shot straight at Ruddy after a neat one-two with Steven Pienaar.
City, in fairness, were much better in the second period. Anthony Pilkington’s curling free-kick was beaten away by Everton ’keeper Tim Howard, who then dashed from his line to stop Holt cashing in on Whittaker’s through-ball, before Snodgrass had a goalbound effort cleared just short of the line by John Heitinga.
The ever-dangerous Baines looked set to give Everton a second as he weaved past Alex Tettey and Whittaker, but Ruddy produced a vital save, his last act before departing the scene to a rousing ovation on his former ground.
In a lively finale, Pilkington was denied an equaliser when his header from Whittaker’s cross was kept out by Howard, then Baines curled a twice-taken free-kick narrowly over the top.
But the real drama came in the last minute when Baines was penalised for a push on substitute Steve Morison. Garrido floated in the free-kick from the right touchline and Bassong’s header bounced up on to the bar and landed over the line before Holt made sure – but the ball was in.
For disgruntled Everton fans, it was an unhappy end to their “retro day” when they reproduced sections of a 1974 match programme from a 4-1 home win against Norwich. Not this time.