One goal proving to be enough for Norwich City
There is a lot to be said for a good old-fashioned 1-0 win.
Some of the most memorable games ever seen at Carrow Road have been settled by the only goal, and the scoreline is back in vogue after Chris Hughton’s revitalised Norwich City disposed of Arsenal, Stoke City and Manchester United in exactly that fashion. Add the Capital One Cup success against Doncaster Rovers and City have chalked up four home wins by a single goal so far this season.
The Canaries did not record a single 1-0 victory last season – though they had five of them en route to promotion from the Championship the season before –and their previous two top-flight seasons brought just two 1-0 wins in each. But there is something undeniably gripping about striving for that one goal, getting it and then fighting tooth and nail to hang on to your lead while the clock ticks down, while the tension and anticipation in the stands reaches fever pitch, especially against the Premier League’s bug guns.
And City have certainly had a long time to hold on. It was 70 minutes against Arsenal, the whole of the second half against Stoke, and half an hour plus four minutes of “Fergie time” – more than five minutes were actually played – against United.
“Yes, the earlier you score then the more you are putting yourself under pressure because you know the opposition have got to claw that back,” said Hughton yesterday. “It is tough. Certainly when you get those goals earlier in the game the emphasis then becomes on the opposition as we saw with Manchester United, where they pushed a lot of players forward and in the end left themselves open to the counter-attack, which saw us nearly get a second goal through Jonny Howson.”
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Hughton said instructions to his players would not have changed significantly at half-time when they led against Arsenal and Stoke.
“Generally you still want to maintain the same things. It’s not only about defending, but trying to score goals that might make life a little bit easier for us,” he said.
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“Sometimes instructions can change in the latter period of a game, because certainly that last 15 or 20 minutes is when you’ll see maybe a change from the opposition. They might throw an extra player up front. In the Manchester United game, we took Wes Hoolahan off and put Jonny on. It was just to give us a little bit of a different player in that position when you knew that United were going to be throwing everything at us.”
City go to Goodison Park tomorrow defending a record of 334 minutes of Premier League football without conceding a goal.
“It’s a wonderful stat for them,” said Hughton. “I have been very pleased, but generally as a team, defensively, I’ve been delighted with them
“What’s more important is the points we’re getting, certainly not conceding will get you at least one, we’re sure of that fact. But you’re always tested and we will be severely tested tomorrow.”
If it offers any kind of encouragement, City’s best Premier League season, when they finished third in 1992-93, included seven 1-0 wins, five of them at home – and one of them at Everton.
I am sure Roy Hodgson was trying to be diplomatic when he said there was no reason Norwich City skipper Grant Holt – “a man like him with the abilities he has” - could not play for England. But it seems pretty clear the national team boss has no real intention of picking him. If he had, he would have done so by now.
“The problem for me is there are a lot of other players who can play for England as well with maybe different characteristics. Sometimes you have to take all these things into account,” said Hodgson on his visit to Carrow Road last week.
“I have not made any strong judgments for or against players like Grant, or players of the same sort of ability as him.”
There is such a thing as being damned with faint praise but he added: “Grant has my full admiration, not only for what he has done at this football club, but with other teams as well.
“However, if I was to give an England cap to every player who had my admiration then I am afraid we would need around 420 places, and we do not have quite that many.”
This, of course, does not appear to be a problem where Liverpool players are concerned, since six of them were included in Hodgson’s final Euro 2012 squad, probably only three of whom were worth their place, and two more have been called up for England this season in Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey, who have each scored one Premier League goal in their careers, some 17 fewer than Holt.
While City shareholders attended the club’s annual meeting at Carrow Road last night, fans of tomorrow’s opponents are campaigning to try to get their own event reinstated.
John Blain, chairman of Everton FC Shareholders’ Association, is urging them to back a petition calling for the return of the AGM, which has been indefinitely suspended by the current majority shareholders at Goodison Park.
He describes Everton as “the first top-flight club to remove the right of its shareholders to an annual general meeting to review past performance and look forward to future performance”.
He says: “Despite the exhaustive efforts of the Shareholders’ Association membership we continue to be denied access to the custodians of our club in the form of an annual general meeting. The time has come for this anomaly to be corrected.”