Norwich City make the extra man tell
COVENTRY CITY 1, NORWICH CITY 2: The argument that it is very difficult to play against 10 men, so often advanced by football managers and commentators, has taken a bit of a battering in the past few weeks.
With the red card becoming almost an obligatory part of the afternoon’s entertainment – there have been five dismissals in the last eight matches involving Norwich City – there has been ample opportunity to test out the theory that a team can be just as hard to beat when they are a player short.
To judge from the Canaries’ recent Championship encounters, however, it is a devil of a job to compete on equal terms when your opponents have an extra man.
In the three games where the sending-off came in the first half – the other two were in stoppage time at the end of the match – the depleted outfit has definitely come off worse.
Skipper Grant Holt’s ridiculous red card before half-time at Reading left a City team 3-1 up and apparently cruising to victory having to fight like tigers to hang on to a point.
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Ipswich’s already wobbly resistance was totally shattered by the premature departure of goalscorer and centre-half Damien Delaney as they crashed to a 4-1 defeat at Carrow Road.
And on Saturday, the effects of losing a key player before the interval were certainly felt by Coventry City when Aron Gunnarsson was sent for an early bath – not the worst place to be on a day of sub-zero temperatures.
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It was not that the Sky Blues were giving Paul Lambert’s men too many problems with a full complement of players, but it was a relatively even contest until Icelandic midfielder Gunnarsson slid into Henri Lansbury with both feet, a challenge deemed dangerous enough for referee Chris Sarginson to produce the red card.
After that, the Canaries always had the edge, even if Marlon King’s goal – sandwiched between two by Holt – at one stage looked set to give Aidy Boothroyd’s team a point.
On a day when nearby Birmingham was brought to a standstill by Siberian conditions, the Ricoh Arena escaped the worst of the white-out and, thanks to the diligence of ground staff and the common sense of the match official, the game was given the go-ahead just over an hour before kick-off, one of just 10 matches to survive in England.
That proved a welcome decision for nearly 1,800 travelling fans as they went on to enjoy their team’s fifth away victory of the season.
The conditions contributed to an early scare for City, however, when Michael Nelson, returning after four months for the suspended Leon Barnett, skidded over in the penalty area and brought Coventry striker Clive Platt tumbling down with him – but the referee deemed it an accident.
Simeon Jackson threatened first for Norwich, lobbing just over the top after moving on to Chris Martin’s pass.
The contest soon became bad-tempered and Mr Sarginson was kept busy by a string of personal duels.
First Holt appeared to be caught by a flailing arm from Michael Doyle, then, with Holt still on the floor, Lansbury felled ex-Canary David Bell.
Korey Smith, also recalled, was only just off target with a low drive before hostilities resumed and King earned a ticking-off for a late challenge that left Elliott Ward clutching his ankle.
Bell was shown the first yellow card for a foul on Simon Lappin, then David Fox went into the book for a shoulder charge on Gary McSheffrey.
Ten minutes before the break, Coventry were reduced to 10 men by Gunnarsson’s two-footed tackle on Lansbury, and before the bell sounded for the end of the first half, the unfortunate Platt appeared to be booked in error for another foul committed by King.
The hosts should have taken the lead 10 minutes after the interval when defender Richard Wood put a free header wide from McSheffrey’s inswinging corner, and it was a miss they were to regret.
Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood made the first of several fine saves in the 58th minute when Chris Martin flicked on Fox’s corner at the near post and Holt struck a first-time shot that had goal written all over it, but a flying reaction stop kept the scores level.
With 25 minutes left, however, Westwood was beaten. Fox and Lansbury combined to set up Russell Martin, who crossed from the right, Holt getting ahead of Richard Keogh to score with a powerful diving header.
City faltered a little as Russell Martin and substitute Hoolahan, sent on in place of Jackson after the goal, both suffered knocks and there was a further blow when Coventry, against the run of play, drew level in the 73rd minute through King.
Doyle hooked the ball forward and King eluded Ward’s despairing challenge to send a powerful right-foot shot past goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Even then, it was Norwich who looked the more likely winners.
Chris Martin fired just wide from 25 yards after a pass by Fox, Westwood dived to his right five minutes from time to keep out Lansbury’s long-range shot, and then he twisted high to his right to keep out a curling effort from Anthony McNamee, sent on for the hobbling Hoolahan.
The resulting corner produced the winner, however, as Nelson and Ward challenged for Fox’s kick and the ball drifted beyond the far post, where Holt turned smartly to fire home from a tight angle.
Lansbury almost made it 3-1 in time added on, while Coventry’s last hope went from Westwood to Eastwood as substitute Freddy struck the post from a narrow angle.