It felt like a victory
PUBLISHED: 15:40 24 October 2011 | UPDATED: 15:40 24 October 2011
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Saturday was the sort of day when you ticked off various milestones as the match wore on.
So, you had 23 – the number of minutes we managed to hold out at Anfield on our last visit seven years ago before Milan Baros put Liverpool ahead.
Or 26 – when Luis Garcia made it 2-0 to put the said game out of our reach.
And then there’s 68 – when Anderson broke the deadlock at Old Trafford last month.
Or how about 82 – the point of the afternoon at Stamford Bridge in August when John Ruddy was sent off and Frank Lampard scored from the spot to kill off any chances of a statement away result.
What about 94 – when we were undone by one last Stoke effort?
All these moments were safely negotiated on Saturday.
The fact that there were no repeats show just how much of a landmark result this was: never mind that it was actually only a point gained, it felt like a win.
The last time we visited this part of the country we had a goalkeeper red-carded and conceded two penalties inside the first 12 minutes of a defeat at Tranmere which also saw Paul Lambert sent to the stands.
That 3-1 almost Keystone Kops-like loss seemed a million miles away on Saturday as, both on and off the field at Anfield, Norwich City looked entirely at home and comfortable in their new, more lofty surroundings.
If there was a moment when you could say that, short of a calamitous injury crisis, a complete loss of confidence or Lambert suddenly and inexplicably deciding that he wanted to become manager of St Mirren, the Canaries look set for at least a second season in the Premier League, then this was it.
There are sure to be parallels drawn between our result at Anfield and the fact that Blackpool won there a year ago – and what a lot of good it did them ultimately.
But on the evidence of the first nine games of the season the Canaries are not the same as Ian Holloway’s one-trick ponies.
Yes, they did carve out some excellent results on their travels, yet they couldn’t win the matches at home that mattered.
So far, at least, we are doing both.
Now I might be slightly biased, but I like to think to think I’m more objective than the somewhat pro-Liverpool panel on Match of the Day.
I just can’t buy into their post-match analysis and inference that they should have been out of sight at half-time and there would then obviously have simply been no way back for a newly-promoted set of makeweights such as City.
Maybe I’m guilty of having gone to rather a lot of away games over the past 26 months but this was just yet another confident Canaries display on the road.
It’s the archetypal Lambert era away-day approach – go out and see what happens and if it doesn’t, well, there’s no regrets, at least we gave it a go.
Other than the dramatic last couple of minutes I didn’t feel unduly under threat at Anfield as long as we didn‘t fall more than a goal behind.
We did go out and gave it a real go against a side who certainly caused us a lot more first-half problems than either Chelsea or Manchester United did.
Fortune should favour the brave – and ultimately it did.
Had we gone to Anfield, stuck nine men behind the ball and then had Grant Holt get on the end of a lucky deflection we might have been deserving of a few of the slightly sniffy weekend match reports about how it was Liverpool who dropped two points rather than Norwich gaining one.
As it was, the way we went there and were able to both frustrate a quality strikeforce with some determined defending and attack ourselves almost had you thinking that it was like the last 17 years hadn’t happened – that we were transported back to the first half of the 94/95 season, the last time when we might have expected to go to major venues such as Anfield and come away with at least a point as a matter of course.
That’s three of arguably the top six clubs visited – just Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham to come – and not only have we gone to each with a specific game plan but also an alternative in case that didn’t work.
The introduction of Grant Holt at Anfield being a case in point. Solid as we were for the first 45 and a half minutes, the fact was that we weren’t creating masses of openings, so, first, we came out with renewed spirit when in the past – perhaps seven years ago – we’d have gradually wilted against the likes of Luis Suarez and ended up losing 3 or 4-0, and then there was a change of emphasis up front after no immediate recovery was forthcoming.
Not to mention switching Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan at one point – Lambert and his team are now starting to prove that they can take on the tactical best that this league has to offer.
Yes, Liverpool should have scored more than they did, but Manchester United rode their luck against us last month.
These things are maybe finally starting to even themselves out, as the lack of repeats of past defensive calamities showed on Saturday.
• One final point about Liverpool. I thought that after being right behind one of the goals at Exeter two years ago I would never again get as close to the action.
Wrong. On Saturday I was in the front few rows at Anfield and in a perfect position to note the determined, spirited defending that was the backbone of the Canaries’ point, not to mention some world-class moments of petulance from Suarez.
But most of all I was right in line to see Ruddy’s stoppage-time save from the Uruguayan, a piece of play that any of the Canaries’ goalkeeping greats would have been proud to have managed.
Yet I’ll bet it still won’t stop somebody telling Canary Call in the coming weeks that he still isn’t up to the demands of the Premier League and can‘t we get Fraser Forster back…
• GENERATION GAP EXPLAINS BELLAMY TREATMENT
What a difference a year – well, 51 weeks, to be precise – makes.
Back in 2010 the Canaries visited the Cardiff City Stadium and the first time Craig Bellamy came anywhere near the travelling support, to take a corner, he received a warm, almost heartfelt, round of applause.
Contrast that with Saturday’s almost continual booing.
“It’s because he scored against us and celebrated,” I heard someone say afterwards.
Well, yes, that’s one way of looking at it. But glancing around the City area on Saturday there was a definite age factor involved. If you weren’t old enough to remember Bellamy in City colours before he left for Coventry 11 years ago – and were also perhaps more likely to be making long away trips to City games at big Premier League grounds rather than the likes of Cardiff – then you joined in.
If you weren’t, you probably looked at the bigger picture and were far less likely to get involved.
• PENALISED FOR BEING WELL SUPPORTED?
If there’s one away ticket price that’s really starting to annoy me it’s the £40 (plus booking fee) I’ve paid for the game at Aston Villa on Saturday week.
As I’ve said before, I can understand being charged top dollar if it’s for a ground that’s regularly sold out – Anfield on Saturday being a case in point – but I see that Villa Park was some 8,000 short of capacity on Saturday against West Bromwich.
A local derby, let’s not forget, and therefore hardly a run-of-the-mill fixture.
But that’s not all. Visit the Aston Villa website and what do you find? Home area tickets for the City game on sale from just £24 – in block R6 of the North Stand, to be precise.
This is nothing short of an absolute disgrace, but something which I would not expect the money-grabbing Premier League officials to concern themselves with for even a nano-second.
As long as the cash keeps rolling in, who cares whether one set of fans are being completed exploited.
It’s different in the Football League, of course. I particularly remember games at Preston and Sheffield United in particular which, because the host clubs were having special ticket promotions, both home and away supporters were charged the same price – £5 and £10 respectively, if memory serves me right.
Why should I have to pay almost twice as much as some home fans? I wouldn’t object to some difference, but not to that big an extent.
Frankly, it’s almost as if I’m being exploited for following a well-supported club who regularly sell out away allocations.
Still, I won’t be holding my breath for Premier League authorities to do anything about this.
There’s more chance of experiencing some atmosphere at a big stadium.
• TICK OFF YET ANOTHER BOX
That’s another Premier League objective safely ticked off then.
Not just a notable away result, but the point it secured, because as we’ve now moved to 12 it means that there’s no longer any danger of Derby’s Premier League record of 11 being threatened.