Photo Gallery: Norwich City are left to lick their wounds
Norwich City 0, West Brom 1: One famous novelist argued that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and Norwich City fans may be sharing that sentiment four matches into the club’s Premier League campaign.
The optimism engendered by the performances against Stoke City and Chelsea, two of the top flight’s European entrants, will not have completely dissipated after yesterday’s frustrating encounter with West Bromwich Albion.
But after the almost non-stop success of the Canaries’ Championship campaign, the cold, hard facts of life at the top, cruelly illustrated in the closing stages of their two previous games, were evident again at Carrow Road, where an early goal from Peter Odemwingie was enough to condemn City to their second reverse in a row – the first time they have suffered successive league defeats in the same season since Paul Lambert became manager more than two years ago.
Getting punished more severely for your mistakes, paying the price for not taking the openings you create, getting the rough end of refereeing decisions – all of this and more was on show as City suffered their first home league defeat since December.
And they were left licking their wounds in more ways than one when substitute James Vaughan, making his first appearance for the club after seven weeks on the sidelines, was pole-axed by an elbow in the face from Albion defender Gabriel Tamas in stoppage time.
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Vaughan, his lip sliced through, was a bloody mess, though referee Mark Halsey, who had awarded the softest of penalties to Albion earlier in the second half, apparently failed to see Tamas’ flailing arm, and there was no help forthcoming from his assistant as City’s hopes of a late leveller from the spot were dashed.
So the Canaries go to Bolton next week with just two points from a possible 12 as they become reacquainted with the elite of the English game.
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It may be too soon to regard City’s start as worrying, but the longer it takes them to chalk up their first victory, the more edgy it becomes, and even at this stage the next three home matches have a very significant look.
Much of the pre-match debate had centred on how City would deal with the absence of suspended goalkeeper John Ruddy.
After all the conjecture, Lambert admitted he had decided two weeks ago to put his faith in 20-year-old Declan Rudd. And though it was something of a surprise to see no back-up ’keeper on the bench, Rudd could not really be faulted with Albion’s winner and he later distinguished himself with two fine saves from goalscorer Odemwingie, one when the striker was clean through in the opening half and then when he brilliantly denied him from the penalty spot after the break.
Back from duty with the England Under-21 squad, Rudd’s afternoon did not start well when he was beaten in only the third minute.
A through-ball from Nicky Shorey ought to have been dealt with but defender Ritchie De Laet, at times so polished yet also accident-prone, in attempting to nod it back to his keeper, only succeeded in teeing up Odemwingie to poke the ball past Rudd.
To their credit, City rallied well with Andrew Surman, recalled on the left because of Anthony Pilkington’s back injury, involved in most of their best moves.
Skipper Grant Holt knocked a rebound wide after Surman’s cross struck the legs of ’keeper Ben Foster, Surman glanced a header wide from an Elliott Bennett cross and, on the half-hour, Bennett missed the best opening when Marc Tierney crossed from the left but he fired first time over the bar.
Bennett then tested Foster with a powerful drive but Albion finished the half strongly and, 10 minutes before the break, Rudd denied Odemwingie with a fine save as he moved on to an excellent ball from Youssouf Mulumbu and struck a powerful effort that the ’keeper kept out with his legs.
The overworked Rudd saved again from Jerome Thomas, but was helpless when Graham Dorrans let fly with a 30-yard thunderbolt that rebounded off his right-hand post and, within seconds, was diving to his left to save another Dorrans effort, though he spilled it.
A subdued start to the second period was enlivened when Chris Martin set up Bradley Johnson for a 25-yard sizzler that narrowly cleared the bar and when Wes Hoolahan was introduced he set up Andrew Crofts for a 20-yard shot that fizzed just wide.
De Laet blocked another Odemwingie shot, but the goalscorer was given a clear chance to double his tally 15 minutes from time. Referee Halsey pointed to the spot when Steve Reid went down under challenge from substitute Steve Morison. If anything, Reid appeared to back into Morison, but in the interests of justice, Rudd dived to his right to make an excellent save.
Vaughan flashed a shot wide and Morison, still searching for his first City goal, put a free header wide from Marc Tierney’s cross.
If City were going to level the scores, it should surely have been through a penalty in injury time when Vaughan was left with blood all over his face from an elbow by Tamas in the six-yard box.
The officials seemed blissfully unaware of the nature of the incident, a factor that probably contributed to some angry exchanges between Vaughan and his opponents at the final whistle.