Photo Gallery: Norwich City hold back the rising Chelsea tide
Norwich City 0, Chelsea 0: There have been many times during Paul Lambert’s reign as manager, especially over the past 12 months, when Norwich City supporters must have been pinching themselves and asking if it was all really happening.
The visit of three-times Premier League champions Chelsea did not produce a famous victory, nor even a goal for another Carrow Road full house and thousands more watching on live TV to celebrate, but the scenes at the final whistle illustrated how much it meant to fans who have endured such lean times in the not too distant past to be competing on the same playing field – literally if not financially – with one of Europe’s top club sides, and coming through with a share of the spoils.
True, had �50m striker Fernando Torres tucked away the game’s one golden chance, instead of poking his close-range shot just the wrong side of the post, the Canaries would in all probability have succumbed to their third home defeat at the hands of top London opposition, and the post-match inquest would not have been dominated by talk of the Spanish star’s painful goal drought.
The fact is he didn’t, it was, and a valuable point was City’s reward for a performance that was fluent and enterprising in the early stages, and brave and determined – as it needed to be – in the second half when the team in the last 16 of the Champions League tightened their grip and pressed hard for a winner.
Individually and collectively, it was a splendid effort by City, for though Chelsea were never quite as incisive as Arsenal and Tottenham on their televised visits earlier in the season, neither were they allowed the same freedom to dominate, at least not in the opening half when Lambert’s men gave as good as they got.
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Twice in the first 10 minutes, Petr Cech’s goal came under threat, first when he parried Anthony Pilkington’s cross into the path of Steve Morison, only for Ramires to slide in to stop the striker getting in a clear shot, then when Grant Holt’s left-foot drive whistled past the woodwork after Morison had turned Pilkington’s pass into his path.
Chelsea may have shaded possession at that stage but not until after Pilkington had a powerful shot headed away by John Terry and Morison had fired into the side netting did they carve out a clear-cut chance.
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The much-criticised Torres moved on to Ramires’ pass in the 26th minute and did everything right as he tried to beat John Ruddy with a deft effort with the outside of his right foot, but the goalkeeper produced the first of a string of excellent saves as he dived to his right to push the ball round the post.
The loss of England midfielder Frank Lampard 10 minutes before the break with a calf injury did not appear to unsettle Chelsea unduly, with Florent Malouda a more than able replacement, but still they might have gone behind when Bradley Johnson’s shot took a deflection off Terry and almost wrong-footed Cech.
Before the break, Ruddy did superbly to deny the ever-dangerous Juan Mata after Malouda had weaved his way into the penalty area, and Mata wasted another opening when he fired over the top.
The second period was a more one-sided affair and City were grateful for the sure handling of Ruddy and some heroic defending, notably by Zak Whitbread and relative rookie partner Daniel Ayala – as well as one moment of profligacy from Torres just before the hour. Full-back Jose Bosingwa left yellow shirts trailing as he burst down the right and his cross found Torres perfectly placed, but as Ayala closed him down, he steered his shot past the post.
Ruddy came to the rescue moments later with a fine save from Mata at his near post after Daniel Sturridge’s diagonal pass enabled Mata to escape the attention of Russell Martin.
The home fans were furious when a blatant handball by Raul Meireles on the edge of the Chelsea area went unpunished as he blocked Holt’s attempt to flick the ball over his head, but referee Mark Clattenburg and his assistants failed to spot it, and the bulk of the action continued at the opposite end. Meireles twice tried his luck from long range, while Mata had another chance from Malouda’s pass, turning to hit a shot that grazed the outside of the post and possibly Ruddy’s fingers.
Ashley Cole and Malouda were not too far off target in the closing stages, but City had earned their point and they left the field to one of the biggest ovations ever to greet a goalless draw at Carrow Road.