It’s Moor of the same for Norwich City
BURNLEY 2, NORWICH CITY 1: It was cruel but perhaps inevitable that if Norwich City’s remarkable run of away results had to end somewhere, it would happen in the traditionally unforgiving surroundings of Turf Moor.
After chalking up three wins and four draws on their travels since losing at Cardiff in October – but living dangerously at times in the previous three away matches – the Canaries finally had to head home empty-handed just when it seemed they had pulled off another of their famous comebacks.
It was a goal nine minutes from time by Burnley’s new England Under-21 recruit, Jay Rodriguez, that settled a rain-soaked Championship encounter and forced City’s travelling supporters to make one of the longest homeward journeys of the season accompanied by the rare taste of defeat.
There were all manner of ifs and buts to consider as they made their way back home – what if City had adopted their second-half formation in the first period, what if referee Phil Gibbs had spotted the clear shove on Simeon Jackson as Burnley broke forward for their opening goal, and what if Michael Duff had been adjudged to have handled when he blocked Russell Martin’s shot with the score at 1-1? The other side of the coin is that the visitors could quite easily have been down to 10 men as early as the 15th minute if Mr Gibbs had deemed Adam Drury’s challenge on Tyrone Mears worthy of a red card, and Burnley might have taken greater advantage of their first-half superiority against 10 men.
It is already history and manager Paul Lambert was not in the mood for a lengthy inquest after urging his men to pick themselves up ahead of the visit of Reading next Saturday, while admitting at the same time that his decision to play three central defenders in the opening half had not been an unqualified success.
The net outcome of the weekend’s results is a drop of two places for City from second to fourth in the table, not of huge significance with 16 league games to go, but with Nottingham Forest motoring into second place and enjoying the added benefit of two games in hand, the pressure is on the chasing pack not to lose touch.
City have yet to visit four of the five teams immediately below them in the table, while they welcome Forest to Carrow Road in mid-April, and how they fare in those games could have a major bearing on where they finish in May.
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Their second-half showing at Turf Moor demonstrated again that they can match any side in the division at their best, but they will have been kicking themselves at the lapses in concentration that handed the Clarets a late winner.
Burnley certainly dominated the opening half and there was a warning for City when Rodriguez glanced a header just wide from a cross by the lively Mears in the 10th minute.
A high challenge by Drury on Mears on the touchline after 15 minutes angered the home crowd and left the Burnley defender needing treatment, but after a word from the official, Drury was a relieved man to be shown the yellow card.
Skipper Grant Holt headed into the side netting from Leon Barnett’s cross as City carved out a rare opening, but in the 33rd minute, Burnley took the lead through former City loan midfielder Dean Marney.
Jackson appeared to be shoved in the back by Mears but no free-kick was given and as Burnley broke forward, Ross Wallace and Chris Eagles combined to set up Marney to drill a low right-foot shot past John Ruddy from 20 yards.
Cork and Eagles both threatened a second goal before Barnett headed over from Henri Lansbury’s free-kick when Holt may have been better placed.
With Zak Whitbread replaced by Simon Lappin at the interval and City reverting to an orthodox back four, they transformed the game.
Three minutes after the break, Lansbury’s interception enabled Wes Hoolahan to break but when he picked out the unmarked Holt, the skipper’s shot was blocked by the legs of ’keeper Lee Grant.
On the hour, a foul on Holt gave Lappin a dead-ball opportunity and Grant dived to his left to make another fine save.
Chris Martin then replaced Jackson and with 65 minutes gone, the Canaries levelled with a brilliant finish from Holt, his 13th goal of the season.
Lansbury hooked the ball forward down the left to Hoolahan, who picked out Holt’s run into the box and, though the bounce was awkward, the City skipper did superbly to pivot on his left leg and angle his shot down and inside Grant’s right-hand post.
There were penalty appeals at both ends as first Rodriguez tumbled over Ruddy, then Russell Martin’s shot was blocked by Michael Duff, possibly with a hand.
Chris Martin had a shot deflected just wide and the substitute forced Grant into action with another long-range effort before Martin had a third opportunity to make it 2-1. Fellow substitute Aaron Wilbraham put him through and he took the ball wide of Grant, but a fraction too wide and the ’keeper recovered to cut out his shot from a tight angle.
With that, Burnley had weathered the worst of the storm and they snatched victory on 81 minutes.
Holt’s foul on Mears gave the Clarets a free-kick on the right, Danny Fox floated the ball to the far post and Rodriguez got ahead of Wilbraham to tuck his shot through Ruddy’s legs for his seventh goal of the season.