Photo Gallery: Blue Moon rising with a star galaxy
Manchester City 5, Norwich City 1: There is something of a space age feel to the immediate surroundings of what is now called the Etihad Stadium and, appropriately enough at times, the football almost appears to come from another planet.
The Manchester City fans sing about a Blue Moon and are able to watch a growing galaxy of stars each week, and after effectively buying the FA Cup last season with their multi-million pound investment in some of the world’s top players, it looks increasingly likely they will be celebrating becoming England’s champions for the first time in 44 years in about five months’ time.
The Premier League leaders duly inflicted the heaviest defeat of Paul Lambert’s reign as Norwich City manager, and though individual errors and two late goals made the experience more painful than it might otherwise have been, there was no real disgrace in the scoreline. Manchester United did, after all, lose 6-1 at home to their biggest rivals.
When a team can field three substitutes costing a combined total of about �47m – and, significantly, two of them were responsible for those late goals – it gives some idea of what the Canaries were up against.
Faced with such a daunting task, they chose to try to combat the unbeaten Blues with another tweak of the formation, which started as 4-5-1 and swiftly transmogrified into 9-0-1 as they were pegged on the edge of their own penalty area.
Norwich battled doggedly for half an hour, assisted by some generous finishing from their hosts, but once Argentine international Sergio Aguero had squeezed a snooker shot through a pack of yellows into the far pocket to set the scoreboard ticking over, there was no real doubt where the three points were heading.
There had been hints of the Canaries’ ability to cause an upset twice in the first 10 minutes, when Steve Morison flashed a volley just wide from an unlikely distance, then when he pounced on a mix-up between centre-backs Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany but allowed the ball to run just far enough ahead for England goalkeeper Joe Hart to deny him a shot.
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At the other end, ’keeper John Ruddy failed to hold a shot by Aguero, leaving Leon Barnett to hack the ball clear, then Aguero volleyed over from a golden chance and Edin Dzeko had a shot diverted by Marc Tierney.
But the goal the home side had threatened came in the 32nd minute. Full-back Micah Richards set up Aguero, who twisted this way and that with some bewildering footwork, and eventually managed to thread a shot low through a forest of legs, including those of Andrew Crofts and Tierney.
Samir Nasri and Aguero could both have stretched their side’s lead before the break, but within two minutes of the restart, there was another brief alarm for the hosts. Morison’s flick put Elliott Bennett clear on the right, but a heavy touch took the ball too wide and he hooked it behind.
Norwich paid the price after 51 minutes and it was an uncomfortable moment for ’keeper Ruddy. Crofts was penalised for a foul on Dzeko and Nasri’s free-kick, curled towards the six-yard box, seemed to take the ’keeper by surprise and he could only help it into the net.
Ruddy may just have lost sight of the ball until the last second as Tierney ran across him, but he made a fine double save from David Silva and Aguero soon afterwards, and only a block by Tierney prevented Aguero scoring the third.
The third came, inevitably, though, midway through the half, when a corner on the left was worked short to the mightily impressive Yaya Toure, who had just enough space to curl a perfect right-foot shot beyond the reach of Ruddy.
With Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan – whose arrival secured victory over Queens Park Rangers a week earlier – having been introduced on the hour, the Canaries gained a little fluency and pulled a goal back with nine minutes left, when Morison scored his fifth of the season.
David Fox, the third substitute, was the provider following a corner with a nicely-flighted cross, and Morison outjumped Gael Clichy to beat Hart with a firm header.
Andrew Surman then shot just wide as the Canaries enjoyed something of a late rally, but any thoughts of the miracle to end all miracles were ended with two goals in as many minutes.
Substitute Mario Balotelli made it 4-1 two minutes from time, knocking the ball in on the goalline with his shoulder after the Canaries were deceived by Yaya Toure’s perfect pass and Adam Johnson’s trickery, but only at the second attempt after Ruddy had blocked his initial effort.
Then, as the game entered stoppage time, Hoolahan was dispossessed and Blues skipper Kompany set up Adam Johnson to roll in a well-placed fifth.