Norwich City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2
For perhaps only the third time this season, Norwich City found top-class opposition a little out of their league as Tottenham Hotspur completed what was ultimately a comfortable victory at Carrow Road.
It was double Dutch when Robin van Persie struck twice for Arsenal in their 2-1 victory last month, and it was a Welsh double that did the damage this time for their North London rivals as the unstoppable Gareth Bale struck the two second-half goals that condemned the Canaries to their third Premier League home defeat of the season.
With Carrow Road bursting at the seams again, the Bank Holiday crowd were treated to a first half where the visitors had the edge but Paul Lambert’s men kept in touch by virtue of some dogged defending, one outstanding save by goalkeeper John Ruddy, some wayward finishing and a possible penalty claim that failed to impress referee Michael Oliver.
City also had their bright moments in that opening period, but once Bale delivered the first of his two goals in the space of 12 minutes, there was likely to be only one winner.
Defeat leaves the Canaries in the bottom half of the table – albeit on goal difference – as they prepare to face two more London sides. And while they will be disappointed at another home reverse, taking points off Fulham and Queens Park Rangers over the New Year weekend is likely to prove more beneficial to their long-term security than an unlikely victory over a Spurs side not beaten at Norwich for 20 years.
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City faced the Londoners with a new full-back pairing as Ritchie de Laet replaced Kyle Naughton, serving a one-match ban and ineligible to face his parent club, while Adam Drury made his first Premier League appearance of the season in place of the previously ever-present Marc Tierney, suffering from a groin injury.
Steve Morison was swiftly into the action, suffering a bang on the head and then hitting a swerving volley that tested Brad Friedel, and all in the opening 30 seconds.
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Ruddy had to dive to his right after four minutes but Rafael Van der Vaart’s shot carried no real power, then the ’keeper cut out Bale’s curling shot after an Emmanuel Adebayor backheel.
There was controversy in the eighth minute as Benoit Assou-Ekotto went down clutching his face after being caught by a stray arm from Grant Holt, who was spoken to by referee Oliver, but not shown a card of any colour.
In a rare City opening, David Fox brought Brad Friedel into action with a 20-yard drive, and there was an escape for Spurs on 20 minutes as Friedel spilled a cross from Morison but Younes Kaboul just beat Holt to the loose ball.
Bale missed a golden chance to give Spurs the lead as Russell Martin failed to control a crossfield ball by Fox and the Welshman intercepted, but blazed over the bar.
Ruddy kept City on terms after 34 minutes with a superb save from Bale, diving to his right to turn his shot wide, after Luka Modric set up the chance.
Within a minute, a splendid move ended with Morison just curling a shot wide from Andrew Surman’s pass. Van der Vaart whistled a shot past Ruddy’s left-hand post as Spurs hit back.
The visitors were appealing for a penalty on the stroke of half-time when Williams Gallas claimed he was tripped by Morison as a Van der Vaart free-kick came across, but referee Oliver saw nothing.
• Half-time: Norwich City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 0
Ruddy had to have his wits about him six minutes after the break when Wes Hoolahan almost diverted a Kyle Walker cross past his own ’keeper.
The Canaries then had a dead-ball oppportunity when Gallas tripped Surman on the edge of the area, earning the first yellow card of the night, and the same player took the resulting free-kick, sending it just the wrong side of the post.
But Spurs moved ahead on 55 minutes through Bale. Van der Vaart picked out Adebayor and the big striker showed deft control inside the Norwich area before slipping a pass to Bale, whose shot Ruddy brushed with his left hand but could not keep out.
There was a problem for City with just over an hour gone when De Laet pulled up with what looked like a calf problem, to be replaced by Leon Barnett.
And it was just about game over in the 67th minute as Morison lost possession midway into the Tottenham half and Modric sent Bale racing away, where his pace kept him ahead of Zak Whitbread and he flicked a delicate shot over Ruddy.
City made a double change with 15 minutes to go as Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett were introduced, Pilkington producing the one real opening late on with a cross that Morison headed wide when it appeared Holt may have been better placed.
• Result: Norwich City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2
• Norwich City: Ruddy; De Laet (Barnett, 64), Russell Martin, Whitbread, Drury (Bennett, 75); Fox; Crofts (Pilkington, 75), Surman; Hoolahan; Morison, Holt. Subs (not used): Rudd, Bradley Johnson, Wilbraham, Jackson.
• Spurs: Freidel, Walker, Assou-Ekotto (Rose, 74), Kaboul, Gallas, Modric, Parker (Livermore, 90), Sandro, Bale, Van Der Vaart (Kranjcar, 85), Adebayor. Subs (not used): Gomes, Pavlyuchencko, Bassong, Pienaar.
• Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)
• Attendance: 26,807
• Goals: Spurs: Bale (55, 67)
• Bookings: City: Whitbread (69). Spurs: Gallas (52)