Photo Gallery: Norwich City look gift horse in the mouth against Fulham
10:52 11 February 2013
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If Norwich City are to steer their way into safe territory in the Premier League, it is a fair assumption most of the points needed to put them out of harm’s way will have to be collected at Carrow Road.
A glance at the fixture list for the rest of the campaign suggests few potential victories on the road – all the more reason, then, that they make the most of home matches against the sides around them or below them in the table.
They passed up one such opportunity when out-of-sorts Newcastle escaped with a point from a goalless draw last month, and there was a sense of déjà vu as Fulham did likewise on Saturday, though such was the lack of edge and goalmouth incident that the game against the Magpies was almost a thriller by comparison.
Honours even against Fulham certainly represented a considerable improvement on the 5-0 drubbing Chris Hughton’s team suffered at Craven Cottage on the opening day of the season, but these were two very different teams with the Londoners fielding only five survivors from that hot August afternoon in their starting line-up and City just four.
This time, Martin Jol’s team were in a certain amount of discomfort after a week in which most of their top players had been scattered far and wide on international duty and others were hit by a virus on the eve of the game. As a result they looked disinterested at times, not helped when star forward Dimitar Berbatov was caught in the face by Bradley Johnson’s boot right at the start.
The Canaries had their own problems with skipper Grant Holt and winger Anthony Pilkington sidelined by injury, but it was hard to escape the feeling that they had looked a gift horse in the mouth as their run without a Premier League win was stretched to nine games.
If the league season is regarded as a marathon, a run of four draws in five games has certainly kept City chugging their way round the course, but they may need more than that to give them a bit of a spurt over the final third.
The gap over the bottom three clubs is still six points – one fewer than before the weekend games – but supporters preparing for the first season ticket renewal date could be forgiven for not having the same near cast-iron certainty they must have felt in mid-December that they will be watching Premier League football in August. Six points is not an unassailable gap with every team still having 36 to play for.
True, the performance against Tottenham just 12 days ago demonstrated that a full-strength City are more than capable of getting the points they need to stay clear of trouble, even allowing for their current goal drought – one in six games in all competitions – but so should they have been capable of disposing of Newcastle and Fulham.
They will need to show a little more ruthlessness against Southampton, Reading and Aston Villa in other home games with a potential bearing on the battle for survival.
In truth, there were few occasions when either side looked likely to win Saturday’s encounter, though what little incident there was came very largely in the Fulham goalmouth.
City striker Luciano Becchio, given his home debut but in a thankless lone striker role thanks to Holt’s back injury, might have made a dream start on six minutes when excellent work by Elliott Bennett enabled Javier Garrido to cross from the left but his first-time effort was straight at Mark Schwarzer.
With 25 minutes gone, defender Russell Martin found himself in space 10 yards out but his free header from Johnson’s cross was a couple of feet wide.
Becchio planted two headers wide before the break, courtesy of crosses by Martin and Wes Hoolahan, but Fulham did not threaten until three minutes after the interval when City ’keeper Mark Bunn had to dive to his right to keep out a long-range drive from Steve Sidwell.
Sébastien Bassong then took a powerful shot from Bryan Ruiz full in the throat but thereafter City carried what little threat there was.
Schwarzer saved tame efforts from Snodgrass and Simeon Jackson, before Johnson flashed a decent chance wide when he might have done better.
The introduction of new signing Kei Kamara for his debut, with four minutes left, provided a little more atmosphere and energy as he looped a header just over the top from Garrido’s free-kick, and was then unfairly penalised for a collision with Schwarzer that brought a theatrical attempt to waste time from the Australian ’keeper.