End justifies the means for Norwich City

NORWICH CITY 2, BURNLEY 2: There is such a thing as making your guests a bit too comfortable and Norwich City’s generosity very nearly proved their undoing at Carrow Road on Saturday.

The Canaries have yet to lose two successive league matches in the same season since Paul Lambert arrived as manager 15 months ago – a commendable record – but they came mightily close to relinquishing that record against Burnley.

In the end, they were rescued only by Andrew Crofts’ controversial injury-time equaliser, with substitute Chris Martin almost providing a dramatic winner before midfielder Crofts was dismissed for a second bookable offence, earning him a one-match ban for tomorrow night’s Championship trip to Millwall.

Seldom has so much incident been crammed into four minutes of additional time and the breathtaking finale crowned a stirring second-half fightback by the Canaries that transformed the stadium into a cauldron of noise and colour. And though the Clarets were convinced Crofts had used his arm in scoring – and TV replays backed that argument – there was no question City had earned their point.

But they do have a habit of making life difficult for themselves, illustrated by the fact that Burnley became the fifth visiting team to score the opening goal at Carrow Road this season – six if you count Gillingham in the Carling Cup.

Indeed, when Martin Paterson justified his recall for the Clarets by scoring twice in the space of seven first-half minutes, it appeared the hosts may be on course for their fourth home defeat of the campaign.

City could have few complaints about the half-time scoreline against last season’s Premier League side, but the reverse was true in the second period when they outfought and outplayed Burnley for long periods, thanks in no small part to substitutions that greatly enhanced their performance, especially the arrival of winger Anthony McNamee and goalscorer Martin, while the Clarets seemed to make the mistake of thinking the game was won. By contrast, the changes made by manager Brian Laws did not seem to help their cause and at times their chief tactic in the second half seemed to be to waste as much time as possible.

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Burnley settled more quickly at the start and after Chris Eagles tested goalkeeper John Ruddy and the strength of the advertising hoardings with a couple of early efforts, there were times when the home defence seemed uneasy, notably when Elliott Ward headed just over his own bar when it seemed it should have been Ruddy’s ball.

It took more than 20 minutes for City to muster an effort of note when Simon Lappin had just a sniff of his first goal for more than three years, but his header from Russell Martin’s cross was saved by ’keeper Lee Grant.

Instead, Burnley, getting plenty of joy down the flanks, grabbed the lead in the 26th minute. A neat reverse pass by Jay Rodriguez found overlapping full-back Tyrone Mears on the right side of the penalty area and his low cross from the byline gave Paterson the simple chance to sidefoot home.

Seven minutes later, Paterson doubled Burnley’s lead. An astute through-ball by former City loan midfielder Dean Marney fell between Leon Barnett and Ward and although Ruddy managed to parry Paterson’s shot, its momentum carried the ball over the line.

Lambert, who could never be accused of leaving a substitution too late, replaced Lappin with McNamee at the start of the second half, and made a second change when David Fox replaced Steven Smith. It forced a reshuffle with Russell Martin switching to left-back and Korey Smith to right-back to accommodate Fox.

At last City began to show more urgency. Barnett headed over from a McNamee corner, a volley by David Fox was blocked by Graham Alexander, and Mears made a vital saving header from a McNamee cross under pressure from Holt.

When Chris Martin replaced Jackson with just over 25 minutes left, the Canaries clicked more smoothly into gear and their brighter showing finally earned some reward with a 71st-minute goal from substitute Martin, finished in style.

McNamee found Hoolahan and, from his pass, Crofts slid a low cross towards Martin, who turned on a sixpence before tucking home a left-foot shot from close range.

McNamee was desperately close to equalising in the 76th minute when his low drive took a deflection off Michael Duff and crashed against the post. Laws made two more changes to try to bolster a team now creaking under the strain, illustrated by the kind of time-wasting that earned Wade Elliott the first yellow card of the day from referee Trevor Kettle.

Kettle reached for the yellow card again six minutes from time when Crofts brought down Rodriguez – his fifth booking of the season – and it appeared Burnley would hold on as the game entered stoppage time.

But in the second minute of time added on, Crofts’ energy and drive brought City the point their fightback warranted.

The midfielder burst forward and found Chris Martin, who tried to set up namesake Russell Martin for a shot, the ball spinning loose from Clarke Carlisle’s challenge into the path of Crofts, who appeared to help it forward with his upper arm, intentionally or not, before firing an unstoppable left-foot shot past Grant.

Chris Martin came close to making Burnley’s misery complete moments later with a curling effort that flew just wide, but Kettle was whistling again when Crofts sent the advancing Mears tumbling midway into the City half to earn a second yellow card and instant dismissal.

It is not often a player gets a standing ovation after being shown the red card, but on this occasion, it was an expression of both sympathy and gratitude.