Photo Gallery: Norwich City heading in right direction
Norwich City 4, Newcastle United 2: Norwich City’s strength in the air has played a major part in their promising start to Premier League life – and never was this better illustrated than in their resounding victory over Newcastle United.
A Grant Holt double and Steve Morison’s fifth goal in six matches mean that 10 of the Canaries’ 24 goals this season have now come from headers, and it was almost eleven, since the opener by Wes Hoolahan against the Magpies came after Andrew Crofts’ cranium had connected powerfully with Andrew Surman’s corner, only for his effort to be blocked on the line.
Manager Paul Lambert insisted that pairing Holt and Morison in attack for only the third time was not a decision influenced specifically by their opponents’ defensive injury crisis, but if not, it was still the logical one.
Certainly, United manager Alan Pardew’s pre-match comments cannot have filled makeshift centre-back pairing James Perch and Danny Simpson with any great confidence about being able to cope with City’s own Spitfire and Hurricane.
While Lambert has complained little about being deprived of the services of three central defenders for most of the season, there was a sense of impending doom in Pardew’s words, as if he went into the game fearing the worst.
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City, making four changes from the 5-1 defeat at Manchester City, started with nine of the side that clinched promotion at Portsmouth seven months ago, back in diamond formation, while three of their summer signings were relegated to the bench – and the biggest crowd at Carrow Road for more than 28 years were in for a treat.
There were a few tetchy moments, and there was a yellow card for Crofts when he caught Shola Ameobi as he stretched for a loose ball, before City gradually took the upper hand.
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First Kyle Naughton crossed into the area, only for Morison to head straight at goalkeeper Tim Krul, then Holt burst through but his low effort was blocked brilliantly by Simpson.
The Canaries were denied an obvious penalty after 27 minutes when Davide Santon, starting a Premier League game for the first time, cut out a cross from Naughton with his right arm but neither referee Martin Atkinson nor assistant Mike Mullarkey saw it – by no means the last controversial decision of the day.
At the other end, goalkeeper John Ruddy was sent leaping across to his left to keep out an effort from Yohan Cabaye that took a wicked deflection off David Fox.
But it was City who took the lead after 39 minutes. Krul gathered Marc Tierney’s cross by his right-hand post but was adjudged, probably harshly, to have taken the ball behind the line. Crofts met Surman’s kick with a header that was blocked on the line by Ryan Taylor, but as Simpson tried to clear, Hoolahan got the final deflection for his second goal of the season.
Newcastle levelled in first-half stoppage time when Cabaye’s perfectly weighted through-ball fell to Demba Ba, who showed immaculate control before sliding his shot past Ruddy.
Ba, one of the most dangerous looking strikers City have faced this season, clipped the top of the crossbar one minute after the restart after Gabriel Obertan and Ameobi combined well but, with 59 minutes gone, Holt restored City’s lead with his fifth goal of the season – and his 50th in the league for the club.
From a corner, which was taken short, Fox delivered the cross, after a one-two with Hoolahan, and though Holt had his first effort blocked by Krul, he followed up with a second header that went in off the crossbar.
Four minutes later, it was 3-1 as Morison grabbed his sixth goal of the season. A careless pass by Dan Gosling – making his first Premier League start for Newcastle – fell to Crofts on the right, and he delivered the perfect cross for Morison to power a header past Krul.
Gosling’s red letter day became a red card day after 65 minutes when he received his marching orders. He had already been booked for a foul on Hoolahan but when he was late with a challenge on Russell Martin just inside the Norwich half, he was shown a straight red.
One felt City ought to coast home after that, but 10-man Newcastle pulled a goal back after 71 minutes when Ba scored his second of the match after the recalled Zak Whitbread tried to be too elaborate just inside the Norwich half. The defender was caught in possession by Ameobi, who picked out Ba, and the Senegalese star showed deft footwork before rifling a shot past Ruddy for his 11th goal of the season.
City’s air force had the final say, however, eight minutes from time. Bradley Johnson, on for Surman, became the fourth different goal provider of the afternoon when he floated in a free-kick from the left, awarded for a foul by Perch, and the unmarked Holt powered in another header to make the game safe.