Manchester United veterans sink brave Norwich City
18:03 01 March 2012
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Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, two players with a combined age of 77 and with a total of 1377 appearances between them for Manchester United, scored at the very beginning and very end of Saturday’s pulsating Premier League encounter at Carrow Road to give United a 2-1 victory and all three points.
Both the result and the manner of the defeat were heartbreaking and cruel for the Canaries and their fans. City were the better side for most of the game. The statistics speak for themselves; Paul Lambert’s side had more possession, more shots, and more crosses than United. Only seven minutes of normal time were left when Holt equalised United’s opening goal, and both the team and the crowd were convinced City had rescued a well merited point. But alas it was not to be. The Reds came straight back down to the Norwich end, and Old Man Giggs belied his years by scoring the winner after two of the three minutes of allotted injury time had passed.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted to the watching TV cameras that Norwich were the better side and that United were lucky to win. Paul Lambert simply praised his side, said they were “excellent” and that his men had given their all and were running on empty at the end.
City started with Holt and Jackson up front, a midfield of Pilkington, Fox, Surman, and Johnson, and a back four of Drury, Ward, Whitbread and Naughton protecting Ruddy. The game began at a cracking pace in front of another Carrow Road full house. United took the lead after only seven minutes when Nani’s cross beat Ruddy, Hernandez (playing instead of Rooney who was suffering from a sore throat) and Welbeck, but fell beautifully for the diminutive Scholes, who seemingly appeared from nowhere to head home. Shortly afterwards Nani was fouled by Johnson and his reaction, writhing on the ground and limping as though poleaxed, would have merited an Oscar if the ceremony had been held in Norwich rather than Hollywood. City then attacked furiously and had United reeling in the latter part of the first half but were unable to beat United’s keeper.
Sadly the match officials, and the referee in particular, seemed star struck by United’s big names, particularly during the early exchanges. Fouls by the household names in Red went unpunished whereas the most minor of infringements by the lesser known players in Yellow resulted in free kicks, lectures, and in Johnson’s case a yellow card. As the officials abdicated responsibility Nani was allowed to decide from where the Norwich free kick should be taken, and Sir Alex Ferguson was given the freedom to stroll around outside his technical area. He was also allowed to challenge the linesman’s decision on more than one occasion. And in the second half there were loud Norwich appeals for a penalty when Evra handled in his box, a decision that would surely have been given had the perpetrator been wearing yellow not red.
At the start of the second half Hoolahan replaced Jackson. And after 63 minutes Bennett replaced Johnson. Wilbraham came on for Pilkington after 70 minutes. United’s much maligned keeper De Gea had made excellent saves from Pilkington, Holt, and Wilbraham. Ruddy too had saved City on a couple of occasions, and once when he was beaten Whitbread was on hand to hook the ball away from the City line.
But after 83 minutes the United defence only half cleared a City corner, Drury knocked the ball back into the area, Whitbread headed on, and Holt held off Ferdinand, turned, and hit a left footed shot into the top corner for his thirteenth goal of the season. Carrow Road erupted. City and their fans celebrated. Justice had been done, and a point had been salvaged.
But no. There was a sting in the tail of this absorbing match. To their credit United’s players immediately bore down on the Norwich goal, and as Ashley Young’s cross came in there was Giggs, on his 900th appearance for United to poke the ball home at the far post. Now it was the United players’ bench’s and fans’ turn to go wild as they held on for victory.
City were deflated. To be fair to Sir Alex Ferguson he was magnanimous in victory and full of praise for the Norwich players and his own side’s good fortune. Like all other City fans I was gutted and silent on my long journey home, but I was also proud of my team, proud to wear the yellow shirt, and full of praise for the team’s performance. They had been as impressive against United as they were poor against Leicester. Well done indeed Mr Lambert. Well played City. Great support from the fans. We may have lost, but I for one am proud to be a Norwich fan.