Grant Holt’s precious goal brings three priceless points

Norwich City kick started their season on Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Arsenal at Carrow Road.

This was the day when it all came good for Holt, for Turner, for Tettey, for Hoolahan in particular, for the team as a whole, for manager Chris Hughton and his backroom staff, for the board who have stood by him, for the loyal support at Carrow Road, for those watching live on ESPN, and indeed for City fans everywhere.

The doubts and doubters who were beginning to emerge and speak up have been well and truly silenced by this performance. This was the day when at last the players, club management and supporters all joined together, when City (for the first time this season) had the rub of the green, when everything went well, nothing went wrong, and the result was an excellent win, and three points which lift us clear of the relegation zone. To coin a phrase “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!

Hughton made two changes from the side that lost 4-1 at Chelsea. Turner replaced Barnett in the heart of the defence, and Pilkington played in midfield at the expense of Howson. Both sides started brightly and it was clear from the early lively exchanges that the City players had been told to chase and harry the Gunners at every opportunity.

For the first time this season the Canaries played with Elliott Bennett and Pilkington on the flanks. The former played an important defensive role and made a point of tackling back. The latter rampaged down the wing throughout the game and caused many problems for the Gunners rearguard.

The decisive goal came after 19 minutes. Tettey picked up the ball in midfield and unleashed a shot from fully 20 yards which Arsenal keeper Mannone could only parry, and Holt reacted more quickly than Mertesacker to place the ball firmly in the corner of the net. Cue pandemonium amongst the Canary fans as they really got behind their team.

Johnson was booked after 24 minutes, and City’s next chance came soon afterwards when they won a free kick on the edge of the Arsenal area, but Hoolahan took it too quickly and the chance was wasted. After 34 minutes Turner had a free header following Pilkington’s corner, but he headed over.

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So 1-0 at half-time and City firmly on top, much to the delight of the watching Ed Balls. Also present in the VIP section was Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, presumably running his eye over Hoolahan and Pilkington. Hoolahan was booked after 55 minutes for continuing his run after the whistle had blown and putting the ball in the net. Holt followed him into the book soon afterwards for something he said to the ref.

Although Arsenal had plenty of possession, and passed the ball prettily, they were shot shy in front of goal, and when they did break through they fired only blanks. City were defending doughtily, and Arsene Wenger showed his anxiety by bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain in place of Podolski. But the England man lasted only 10 minutes before pulling up with what seemed to be some sort of muscle problem in his leg. Arshavin replaced him. Minutes later Holt had another great chance when he raced through following a mistake by Vermaelen, but his attempted chip went straight into the keeper’s arms.

Snodgrass replaced Elliott Bennett after 79 minutes, and on 90 minutes Hughton made a double substitution; Ryan Bennett replaced Hoolahan, and Morison replaced Holt. City had a scare after 85 minutes, but Ruddy saved Artega’s shot comfortably. The Canaries played out the five minutes of added time with the crowd in full voice alternately singing their praises and urging the ref to blow the final whistle. During this period referee Lee Probert appeared to pick up something presumably thrown onto the pitch in the Norwich goal area and handed it to the fourth official.

This was City’s first Premier League victory of the season, and their first in the league under Hughton’s management. Holt scored for the third game in succession, our defence kept a clean sheet, and the three points gained lifted us up to the giddy heights of 15th place in the table. Carrow Road was rocking and rightly so. Game on! Season on! The recently released club accounts show how important it will be to stay in the Premier League for at least another season so as to wipe out our debt, and allow us to invest more in the football side. Let us hope we can build on this excellent performance and well merited result and increase our points total still further over the next few games.

Next week in the run up to Halloween the Canaries have a chance to finally exorcise the ghost of Paul Lambert when they play Aston Villa away. Another performance like Saturday’s and we can do exactly that. More of the same please, City!