Sunday, April 15, 2012
In his post-match comments Paul Lambert habitually describes the Canaries’ performance as excellent, but after the away match at Spurs he was positively effusive, describing his team’s victory as colossal and brilliant. Nobody who was there, or who watched the match on TV, would disagree.
Personally I would call the team’s performances and results in the two games during the Easter holiday “superlative, superlative, and superlative”.
Norwich City and their supporters enjoyed a very happy Easter weekend this year. On Saturday the Canaries twice came from behind to share the spoils in an exciting 2-2 draw with Everton at Carrow Road. And on Easter Monday they beat Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane.
Both games were characterised by some controversial refereeing decisions, most of which seemed to go against the Canaries. Some referees and their assistants seem to be overawed and afraid to award penalties against so called big teams, or to book their international players, perhaps through a misplaced fear of offending the clubs or the FA.
Lambert made three changes for the Everton game. Holt (after suspension), Drury, and Elliott Bennett returned to the starting line up. The Toffees took the lead after 22 minutes when Jelavic shot home from Jagielka’s pass after an Everton free kick. Six minutes before the break City equalised when Drury was left in acres of space on the left wing. He fed Hoolahan on the edge of the box, who crossed perfectly for Howson to score his first ever goal for the Canaries. Soon afterwards Baines made a high challenge on Fox and was lucky not to receive a second yellow card as the Toffees went through a sticky patch.
Everton’s second goal was controversial. Pienaar seemed to be lying on the ball, which counts as obstruction in my book, but apparently not in the referee’s. Play continued and Jelavic duly scored his second after Pienaar finally let go of the ball. City players protested that they should have had a free kick but to no avail. Stung to the quick, City soon equalised. The effervescent Hoolahan released substitute Wilbraham, who had replaced Fox after 65 minutes. Toffees keeper Howard saved Wilbraham’s shot, but the Canary front man was able to collect the rebound and roll the ball to Holt, who kept his cool and calmly beat the keeper from five yards.
Jelavic proved that he could play act as well as score goals when he fell down clutching his face after an innocuous challenge by Bennett. Unfortunately he received neither a yellow card nor an Oscar, both of which would have been well deserved. The crowd howled their derision at Baines when he blatantly body checked Martin, but he did not receive the red card that he surely merited for a series of bad fouls. Both sides strove hard for the winner, but a draw was a fair result in a game which kept the crowd entertained until the end. Full marks to both managers and both teams for going all out for a win. Everton even brought on the musclepower of Anichebe and Fellaini for a final foray, but the Canary defence’s feathers remained unruffled.
Having reached the psychologically important magic 40 point mark the Canaries trotted out at White Hart Lane on Easter Monday full of confidence, quite at home amongst the elite clubs in English football and not at all overawed. This time Lambert made three changes. Johnson was recalled and Wilbraham made his first Premier League start. Fox was left out, and Hoolahan and Surman began on the bench. Thus did Norwich make history; this was the first time that a Premier League team had fielded 11 players born in England since Middlesbrough did so on the final day of the 2005/066 season. After 13 minutes Pilkington proved that the aforementioned confidence was not misplaced by scoring his eighth goal of the current campaign after the Spurs defence dithered and failed to clear. Pilkington began the move by robbing Kaboul and the same player was on hand to pick up the rebound after Wilbraham’s shot hit King. Immediately afterwards, Holt protested furiously at being denied a clear penalty when he was impeded by King. To make matters worse Spurs equalised from their next attack when Defoe ran on to Livermore’s pass and lifted the ball over Ruddy.
In the second half Ruddy then made an excellent save from Assou-Ekotto, before the referee waved away City claims for a penalty after Adebayor attacked the back of Wilbraham with his shoulder. Johnson and Elliott Bennett each picked up a booking and Wilbraham had a decent shout for a penalty turned down. This was real end to end stuff, and to the delight of the 3,000 travelling Canary fans Elliott Bennett picked a great moment to score his first goal for the club, taking a pass from Martin after 66 minutes and letting fly with a fierce shot from fully 20 yards out that left Friedel helpless.
With 20 minutes left Morison replaced Holt and to their credit the City fans backed him to the hilt. With 13 minutes left Wilbraham had to go off with a nasty cut. Jackson replaced him. Jackson missed a good chance, and Norwich might have had a penalty when Nelsen appeared to handle Morison’s cross, but there was no further score and City ran out worthy winners. Spurs left the field to a resounding chorus of “Thursday nights, Channel 5”. It was City’s first Premier League win against Spurs since 1993.
Some final thoughts. Well played the entire City squad, who must be cream-crackered after such a hectic programme. Well played in particular Aaron Wilbraham who has finally won over the City fans. Superbly well managed Lambert and Culverhouse. Well supported the Yellow Army, whose faith never wavered. Even BBC’s MOTD team were forced to give us credit, albeit through gritted teeth. Well played Howson and Ryan Bennett, who have finally made their mark in a yellow shirt. I can but agree with Mr Lambert. Colossal. Brilliant. Best performance by the team in the last three years.
Three more points, (or three dropped by the teams at the bottom), will see us mathematically safe from relegation. Who would have believed that we would be in such a position as Colchester rattled in their fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh goals at Carrow Road a mere three years ago? Delia, David, Paul, Ian, the players, and the fans. I salute you.