Photo Gallery: It’s sweet Liberty in Swansea for Norwich City
Swansea City 2, Norwich City 3: The Canaries’ last victory at Swansea came so long ago – half a century, in fact – that the second biggest settlement in Wales was not even a city at the time.
It was Swansea Town who were beaten 3-0 at Vetch Field by Norwich in a second division fixture back in March 1962, seven years before the club amended their name to reflect their new status.
But almost exactly 50 years on, this was most definitely a tale of two cities, upwardly mobile in recent seasons to such an extent that at kick-off both were sitting in the top half of the Premier League.
At the final whistle, however, only one of those teams was still above the halfway mark as Paul Lambert’s men completed their third double of the campaign to move into their highest position yet on their return to the top flight, a barely believable eighth place.
While Swansea have been justifiably praised for their progress over the past season and a half, Norwich’s even more remarkable revival has perhaps been slightly overlooked beyond these parts – no bad thing, one might argue, as they have approached the dizzy heights almost “under the radar”.
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The penny is beginning to drop, though, with the national media. After victory at the Liberty Stadium, Lambert was asked if he was hoping to go into Europe. Only on holiday, was the typically droll reply.
For now, staying in the Premier League remains very much the main concern for all at Carrow Road, and two wins from the final 13 games will almost certainly be enough to achieve it. Even a collapse of 1985 or 1995 proportions might not threaten City’s survival now.
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That they completed a clean sweep of victories against their fellow promoted sides was down to another stirring away performance, and while, as ever, it was very much a team effort, three men stood out.
Defender Elliott Ward was magnificent on his first competitive appearance of the season, in which one vital tackle on Danny Graham and a deft assist for the first goal were the highlights. Goalkeeper John Ruddy produced another of those late reflex saves that have become his trademark to deny Swansea defender Steven Caulker a stoppage-time equaliser. And skipper Grant Holt, given the kind of reception that used to be reserved for aristocrats in revolutionary Paris, did a far, far better thing than he has ever done – well almost – by taking his goal tally for the season into double figures with a matchwinning brace.
It was Swansea who struck first, however, midway through the opening half when Gylfi Sigurdsson and Nathan Dyer combined to set up Danny Graham for a neat finish.
City could have levelled eight minutes before the interval when Andrew Surman headed straight at goalkeeper Michel Vorm from Anthony Pilkington’s cross, but they also might have been 2-0 down at the break had Ward not miraculously beaten Graham to a low cross from Scott Sinclair and diverted it over the bar.
The value of that rescue act was underlined within two minutes of the restart when Holt scored a bizarre goal following a free-kick from David Fox.
Russell Martin sliced an attempted volley high into the air, but Ward somehow managed to hook the ball back from the byline across the face of goal, where Holt headed home.
Ruddy saved from Graham and Caulker struck the woodwork with a header as Swansea sought an immediate response, but in the 51st minute, Pilkington made it 2-1 with his seventh goal of the season. Elliott Bennett teed him up for the shot and his goalbound effort was diverted past Vorm by defender Neil Taylor.
After a defensive reshuffle forced by Adam Drury’s groin injury, the Canaries scored again in the 63rd minute. Surman picked out Bennett and his pass was perfect for Holt to drill a low right-foot shot past Vorm.
Kyle Naughton almost made it 4-1 with a powerful effort that Vorm tipped acrobatically on to the bar, then Naughton survived penalty appeals at the other end when he cut out a cross from substitute Wayne Routledge.
City substitute Wes Hoolahan was next to be denied when Vorm tipped his shot over the bar after Simeon Jackson and Holt combined to set up the chance.
In a breathless finish, Ruddy kept out a free-kick by Sigurdsson but the resulting corner led to a penalty that gave Swansea fresh hope. With just over three minutes remaining, Holt needlessly tugged Ashley Williams’ shirt and Graham tucked the penalty away – his sixth goal in four games against Norwich.
Substitute Steve Morison might have wrapped the game up as Vorm palmed his shot away, then Graham spurned a hat-trick chance when he shot wide from Sigurdsson’s cross.
The last act came deep in stoppage time when Caulker’s header from a corner was brilliantly tipped over by Ruddy.