Norwich City 2, Swansea City 0
Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy's dramatic late penalty save proved to be the catalyst for a thrilling 2-0 Championship win over Swansea at Carrow Road.
They say good things come to those who wait – and the rewards were worth it for all but those who opted to pre-empt the inevitable traffic jams and leave Carrow Road with 10 minutes remaining and a 0-0 on the cards.
It wouldn’t have been the worst goalless draw you’ll ever see – anyone who witnessed Swindon away in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy has already experienced that.
But no one could have predicted what would happen on Saturday as the game entered its final stages. City started like a train, playing some of their best football since Paul Lambert has been here, but then allowed a fine Swansea side to edge their way back into the game and gradually take control. As the seats began to empty, you’d have settled for the point. And then the game was turned on its head by a rare moment of common sense from a referee who had otherwise been Mr Picky, refusing to allow an incident to go without feeling obliged to blow his whistle. Fortunately, the two sets of players were good enough to make a game of it – on another day it might have been a stinker. But that’s by the bye – Phil Crossley had no hesitation in blowing for a penalty when Scott Sinclair hared into the area chasing Andrea Orlandi’s pass, only to tumble over the arms of keeper John Ruddy as he went to ground. A spot-kick was as inevitable as Sinclair’s fall. What wasn’t was the yellow card that Ruddy received. Swansea fans grumbled, but to be fair to their players, they offered little in the way of objection – like their commendable manager Brendan Rodgers post-match. That Ruddy was last man was without question – but the fact that Sinclair had pushed the ball too far past him to be denied a scoring opportunity was equally clear. Maybe for once common sense had prevailed over the rigidities of the rule book. David Cotterill stepped up to take, aimed for the left-hand corner, but Ruddy – and don’t forget, he’s a big unit – dived to his right and got a firm hand on the ball just as it was about to bounce, turning it on to his right-hand post and allowing City to clear. It was a tremendous save, posing the question, who was the last City keeper to save a penalty at Carrow Road? The effect of his save was two-fold: first it provided City with a second wind, which became a gale when Ashley Williams scored an own goal three minutes later, and a hurricane by the time Simeon Jackson wrapped it up with his first for City in time added on. More of that in a moment, because the other effect will be felt by Ruddy. His exposed position creates pressure enough, but the fact that Fraser Forster walked those same penalty areas with such success last season has simply added to his load. Only recently he felt compelled to make the point that he is his own man, not Forster II. When the fans began to chant his name you wondered if the ghost of Fraser Forster was finally exorcised. Time will tell, but in the short term it has done nothing but good. Amidst all the euphoria of the final 10 minutes it’s easy to forget the previous 80, but they more-than-interesting analysis subjects. Like City’s dominance of the first 20 minutes, when some of the football down the left side was sublime. With Swansea renowned for their passing game, City hit the ground running, attacking them at every opportunity, pressing forward and refusing to allow them to get into a comfort zone. The build-up was terrific, but all they had to show for it was a Korey Smith shot blocked by the keeper, Dorus De Vries, who was a bag of nerves when Chris Martin teased low crosses into the area, but with no end product. Before half-time Swansea were on top, having allowed City to blow themselves out. Darren Pratley and Mark Gower had taken control of midfield, City were sitting off them and the visitors were on the front foot. Fortunately, Swansea can’t shoot for toffee. A team that scored just 40 goals last season but had hit the net four times last weekend and three before that in the Carling Cup would have had the game won by the interval if they’d been able to put a shot on target.
HALF-TIME: Norwich City 0, Swansea City 0
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And against this City side, profligacy is a dangerous thing: they’ve scored in the final minute of each of their four games this season. They don’t give up, and the longer the game went on without Swansea finding a reward for their dominance, the more the odds were shortening in City’s favour. That Swansea enjoyed the bulk of the possession and the play is accepted, but Lambert has gathered together a team that will scrape for everything they can get, and that is as commendable, if not as aesthetically pleasing, as being able to find inch-perfect passes at will. The back four had their best outing of the season, with Elliott Ward the star turn alongside Michael Nelson. Ward’s timing was inch-perfect as he slid in to block and tackle, while on the right Russell Martin had a fine game, especially up against a player like Sinclair, who he managed to restrict to a couple of outside runs. The midfield ascendancy had been lost, but the will was there, and when Ruddy performed his heroics, it came bursting out. There was a touch of good fortune about the opener, with Alan Tate hoofing a ball high into the air, Chris Martin winning the header a few yards outside the area and Holt controlling, albeit with what looked like his arm, before knocking it wide to the left where Anthony McNamee was waiting. McNamee hit a first-time cross to the near post, Williams, heading towards his own goal, slid in to clear the danger, but succeeded only in kicking it past his own keeper. Had he left it, De Vries was favourite to gather, even with Jackson lurking on the edge of the six-yard box. Williams had had a good game, but it was a poor mistake. Swansea tried to maintain their composure and pass their way back into the game in the remaining minutes, but when Neil Taylor lost possession in front of his own dug-out, the end was nigh. Chris Martin took over, made ground, saw Holt and the corner post ahead of him and slid the ball to his team-mate. Holt initially looked like he was heading for the flag to waste some time, but lifted his head, having seen Jackson running like the clappers. What to do? Stick with 1-0 with a minute or two left, or put the game beyond Swansea’s reach? It was a tough call, one that needed someone with the confidence to pull it off. Holt was the man. Anyone who thinks he is just an old-fashioned, physical centre forward, think again. The cross, on the run, was superb, one any winger would envy. Jackson had arrived in the area, but he didn’t snatch at the volley, waiting instead to pick his spot to sidefoot it past defender Garry Monk and in off the bar. Cue the celebrations as City move up to seventh place in the Championship – and hands up those who would have taken six points from the first three games. Even those who missed the goals.
RESULT: Norwich City 2, Swansea City 0
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