Past is the key to future for Norwich City
Michael Bailey Norwich City 2, Swansea City 0: For lots of reasons - not all good - Saturday's clash with Swansea felt like a true Championship return for Norwich City.
Norwich City 2, Swansea City 0
For lots of reasons - not all good - Saturday's clash with Swansea felt like a true Championship return for Norwich City.
Their early fixtures have provided opposition known to look for a pass instead of a punt - and Swansea are the masters - so, despite a few wayward moments, Carrow Road was treated to some real quality from two sides willing and most definitely able to produce flowing football. League One, this was not.
But as the game wore on, it felt like some old second tier habits hopefully left behind by City's relegation 15 months ago had crept back. For a large share of Saturday's nip and tuck encounter there was a slight restlessness from the home fans, stemming from the odd misplaced pass, a midfield struggling to get on the ball and a lack of clear cut chances.
Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin got deeper in search of the ball - and Grant Holt more isolated - while the visitors broke with growing menace.
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And all this after an exerting opening 20 minutes in which the home side threatened to steam roller their opponents with an intense and pressing start.
However, for all those insecurities about how this City side compares to the club's recent Championship efforts, it was their renewed ability in giving everything to avoid defeat - and keep their belief until the final whistle - that won through. Skills developed in the third tier.
Doing so in such stirring style on Saturday was an added bonus.
Indeed, Norwich proved exactly why themes like momentum and lessons learned from last season's League One title winning experience keep cropping up - because Saturday's win was a textbook example.
It was all Norwich from the start, buoyant from last weekend's last minute win at Scunthorpe and manager Paul Lambert naming an unchanged side to boot. The Canaries were in Swansea's faces and determined to give their opponents no time on the ball.
But only few chances came City's way. Korey Smith wrapped the legs of Swans keeper Dorus de Vries, Chris Martin burst through twice with little reward and Andrew Crofts sent a powerful 26th minute header from one of many quality Andrew Surman deliveries agonisingly wide.
Norwich's start was in the 11 terriers/express train mould - so much so you wondered if they could keep it up.
It soon became clear they could not as they ran out of steam and backed off their opponents. Swansea had more time on the ball - something they filled with more passes rather than an improved cutting edge - and were also guilty of squandering plenty of good positions by some frivolously wayward shooting.
Their urgency waned as full time started to approach, but by then there was plenty for City's back line to claim credit for.
Solid work from Michael Nelson and Elliott Ward usually meant a centre-back's foot got in the way of the best Scott Sinclair, Stephen Dobbie and Nathan Dyer had to offer - either that or the final shot was of more danger to the home fans in the River End.With Darren Pratley and David Cotterill showing their class, Dobbie prodded one effort wide of the advancing Ruddy and his left post, while Sinclair skipped through everyone before the City keeper came out well - comforting moments for a man trying to prove himself following Fraser Forster's heroics last season.
Norwich seemed set to avoid one of those frustrating home defeats that littered their recent Championship campaigns - but despite doing so well to keep their visitors at bay, it all threatened to unravel for City on 83 minutes.
The sense of impending inevitability rocketed when Ruddy brought down the lively Sinclair as he knocked the ball past him - but almost certainly out for a goal-kick, rather than a simple tap in.
Referee Phil Crossley - all too picky for most of the match - could do little but point to the spot. His big call was to show Ruddy yellow instead of red, the right decision and one both managers agreed with. Cotterill stepped up to take the 84th minute penalty - Ruddy saved, low his right, tipping the effort onto his post.
Nothing wrong with the spot kick, just a stunning save from a keeper who had most of the 23,852 crowd singing his name at the final whistle. Time will tell whether the attendance reflected the wedding and music festival season, or a effect of charging non-members �29 the privilege of entry, but on the pitch Swansea were unable to cope with what had just happened.
Some of the players are different to City's League One champions, and the opposition is now better - but City's ethic, their manager's philosophy and Carrow Road's mentality all remain. Three minutes to go and Holt held up the ball - with a hint of handball - before substitute Anthony McNamee's low cross brought a brain freeze from the otherwise excellent Swansea centre-half Ashley Williams.
With only his keeper for company his slide turned the ball in his own net. Cue head in hands.
Carrow Road was buzzing and, by the time the fourth and final minute of injury time arrived, it was rocking. Another substitute, Simeon Jackson - who looked like a man trying too hard as he left the ball behind twice with his early touches - could not contain his joy after his beautifully taken side-foot volley opened his account via the underside of the crossbar.
The goal owed plenty to some great work from Chris Martin and the intelligence of Grant Holt to supply the perfect cross - and was a stirring way to seal your first home league win of the season.
Nelson's late departure after an ankle knock will leave one worry ahead of an interesting Carling Cup second round trip to Blackburn Rovers, as City test themselves against established Premier League opposition.
Since their last Championship forays, City have learned to be hard to beat and they will never give up. Numerous late - and important - goals already this season prove it.
So should Rovers take Tuesday lightly, City's new habits could easily spring a surprise.