Photo Gallery: Norwich City prove that they can stand the heat
Manchester United 2, Norwich City 0: As more than 75,000 fans drifted away from Old Trafford in glorious late afternoon sunshine, conditions were more appropriate for the summer game enjoyed half a mile down the road.
Manchester United and Norwich City supporters made their way home with the thermometer still nudging the high 20s, many in shorts and flip-flops and sporting such healthy tans that it could have been the first day of July rather than the start of October.
It was perhaps fitting in the circumstances that Lancashire cricketers, parading their County Championship trophy, had completed a lap of honour before kick-off, but even they might have found it hard work in such stifling temperatures, and enclosed in a bubbling cauldron of noise.
It is often said that those who can’t stand the heat should stay out of the kitchen and, after United had pumped 14 goals past London’s top three clubs in their three previous Premier League home games, some may have wondered whether Paul Lambert’s Canaries would be boiled alive.
But more than withstanding the heat, newly-promoted City revelled in it and came dangerously close to serving up a major surprise.
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Sir Alex Ferguson’s men went into the match hot favourites to chalk up a club record 19th consecutive home league win, but for three quarters of the contest, they did not look like getting it.
It took the Canaries’ profligacy in front of goal and a shrewd double substitution by the veteran United boss with 25 minutes to go to secure another entry in the history books.
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Roared on by 3,000 fans chanting “We’re Norwich City, we’ve come for our scarves” – a reference to the green and gold worn round the necks of United’s anti-Glazer fans – Lambert’s team showed no sense of inferiority as they got to grips with the reigning champions and current leaders.
The 2-0 scoreline, courtesy of goals by midfielder Anderson and substitute Danny Welbeck, flattered United and did scant justice to City’s contribution to the contest, but it was a painful lesson in taking one’s chances when they come along.
The Canaries squandered two glorious opportunities, were out of luck twice more, and twice they failed to deliver the killer ball after carving holes in the home rearguard.
The first such occasion was in the fifth minute when Elliott Bennett’s one-two with Wes Hoolahan put him clear but he picked the wrong option with a cross to the near post that was cut out by Phil Jones – the first of many instances when United were indebted to the hugely impressive 19-year-old.
Clear chances were few and far between in the opening period, when United found City doggedly hard to break down. First Leon Barnett made an important block from Javier Hernandez, then Wayne Rooney, recovered from hamstring trouble, headed over from a Nani corner.
Nani was then stopped by a splendid tackle by Barnett’s defensive partner, Russell Martin.
The Canaries were largely restricted to speculative long-range shooting in that opening period, but after the break they sliced their way through the home defence time and again without making it count.
Six minutes into the half, Steve Morison, working like a Trojan in the lone striker role, broke on the right and got the better of the jittery Jonny Evans, but with Hoolahan waiting in the six-yard box, he delayed long enough for Jones to get back and make a fine tackle.
City had another excellent opportunity when Bradley Johnson, outstanding once again, found Anthony Pilkington overlapping on the left. Pilkington cut inside Jones on to his right foot, but his shot looped up off Evans and goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, making his Premier League debut, was able to parry it upwards, where Patrice Evra nodded it back into his hands.
A long-range effort by Hoolahan represented another warning to United and Ferguson responded by replacing Nani and Hernandez with Ryan Giggs and Welbeck, a double change that turned the match – but not before Pilkington had missed the best chance of all.
Johnson and Bennett combined to put him through on the left and as Antonio Valencia stumbled, Pilkington was clean through, but pushed his shot the wrong side of the post as Lindegaard came out. The reaction of Pilkington, Lambert and the City bench said it all.
The Canaries were made to pay almost immediately when Giggs’ corner from the left was nodded back by that man Jones and onwards by Rooney for Anderson to head the opening goal.
City made a double change of their own and there was another remarkable escape for United when Pilkington’s shot was deflected off Anderson on to the woodwork and out.
Rooney could have increased United’s lead when Giggs picked him out and he shot inches wide, but with six minutes to go, Morison missed another golden opportunity, playing a one-two with substitute Simeon Jackson, but scuffing a bobbling effort straight at the ’keeper.
The game was well and truly up three minutes from time when Welbeck, booked earlier for a heavy challenge on Marc Tierney, played a one-two with Ji-Sung Park and rolled in a simple goal.
Rooney floated a delicate shot over the bar in stoppage time after a rare slip by Kyle Naughton, but a 3-0 scoreline would truly have been a distortion.