Perfect time for Norwich City to tackle Manchester United
The visit of the reigning Premier League champions Manchester United has come at the perfect time for Norwich City – according to the former striker most responsible for inflicting a shock defeat on them on their last visit to Carrow Road.
Dean Ashton scored the first goal and set up the second for Leon McKenzie when the Canaries beat United 2-0 in April 2005, a victory that triggered a late-season revival that almost saved Nigel Worthington’s team from relegation. Seven years on, City are much better placed at eighth in the top flight as they prepare to take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-holders on Sunday (1.30pm), looking to bounce back from their FA Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Leicester City.
“The United game has come at a great time, straight after the FA Cup defeat which has probably left a bit of a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouths,” said Ashton.
“It’s very hard to criticise the team when they have played so well this season. It’s just one of those things.
“But to have the biggest game of the season so far coming up next means everyone will be thinking of that, and if they can get a result it would take away that disappointment, though it wouldn’t be quite the shock it was when we beat them.”
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Ashton was three months into his year with the Canaries, after a club record �3m move from Crewe, when he gave them the lead against United with a header from David Bentley’s free-kick, before supplying the cross from which McKenzie volleyed past goalkeeper Tim Howard to make it 2-0.
“It was certainly one of the top five games I ever played,” he said.
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“I remember the first goal was a header from the free-kick and then I set up Leon for the second.
“That was the first time I had played Manchester United in the Premier League. We were still struggling at the time, so it was a massive win and set us off on a half-decent run.”
City’s victory ended a run of five straight defeats and it was United’s first defeat in 21 league games.
SaId Ashton: “From then on, we really gave ourselves a chance of staying up, though it didn’t work out in the end. Beating Manchester United gives you a lot of confidence.”
Ashton feels United are still slight favourites to retain their title at the expense of big rivals and current leaders Manchester City.
“I think everyone would say the United team is not quite as strong as a few years ago,” he said. “The team we beat had Rooney, Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy – admittedly they all came off the bench in that match.
“So it’s not quite the same team but still a fantastic team and still competing to win the league.
“I think the title will go down to the wire. Manchester City have a fantastic squad but United have the experience and I feel they will probably just edge it this time.”
Ashton, 28, forced to retire from the game in 2009 because of a long-term ankle injury, has one more special memory of facing United – the best goal of his career in West Ham’s 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford in May 2008.
“It’s definitely my favourite goal,” he said. “Unfortunately we were 3-0 down at the time, which rather took the shine off it. The cross came in, the header was deflected and I managed an overhead kick and put it in the top corner. I enjoyed it but the score at the time meant I couldn’t really celebrate it.”
Meanwhile, Ashton, who scored 18 goals in 46 games for Norwich before a �7.25m move to the Hammers in 2006, has just been confirmed as one of eight new members of the Canaries’ Hall of Fame, to be inducted at a dinner at Carrow Road on March 6.
He said: “I’m very surprised, only being here a year, when there are so many players on the list. I’m very honoured to be chosen by the fans.
“I’m very proud to have played for Norwich and have memories of some great goals and great results, even if we didn’t stay up. For the fans to have chosen me is a great honour.”