Photo Gallery: Norwich City’s rebirth just keeps going
Wigan Athletic 1, Norwich City 1: Rather a lot has changed at Norwich City since they last hit the road in the Premier League.
Fans won’t really need reminding that the last time Norwich ventured outside Norfolk’s borders in the top-flight it was to see their side completely capitulate against Fulham to send them down.
Well, quite a bit has happened in the six years between that fateful day and City’s rebirth at Wigan on Saturday. To be more exact, it is the last two years which have seen the most change under a Mr P Lambert.
And in their 100th game under the 42-year-old, Saturday’s trip to the DW Stadium had all the hallmarks of the other 99 – character, determination and an unbreakable resolve not to be beaten. City needed to show that in the last 10 minutes against Roberto Martinez’s side when the Latics mounted the kind of onslaught that Norwich have become famous for when they can smell three points.
But Norwich, thanks in large part to a couple of excellent blocks from Ritchie De Laet, did not buckle and the Belgian in particular showed the kind of mentality that Lambert demands of his players.
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De Laet will know full well that the 21st minute of Saturday’s contest was not his finest moment.
Perhaps not yet used to the demands of Premier League football, the Manchester United loanee dallied on the ball for a fraction too long trying to bring the ball out of defence and Franco Di Santo pounced.
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The former Chelsea man advanced into the City penalty area and, so determined was De Laet to make up for his error, he made a rash challenge that referee Stuart Attwell deemed worthy of a spot-kick.
Ben Watson swept home the penalty to goalkeeper John Ruddy’s right to pile on the agony for De Laet but you don’t get picked out by Sir Alex Ferguson as a star of the future if you go hiding after making a mistake.
And he certainly didn’t in the closing stages in bailing out Ruddy and substitute Leon Barnett after a defensive mix-up. Suddenly Victor Moses, a tricky presence all afternoon, found himself 12 yards out with the goal at his mercy.
As he pulled the trigger, 4,500 travelling City fans held their breath but De Laet launched himself and made the kind of vital block that Nemanja Vidic would have been proud of. The danger wasn’t over though, with the rebound rolling to Hugo Rodallega, but once again De Laet was up in a flash to foil the danger.
It was enough to preserve a point given to them after Wes Hoolahan had equalised on the stroke of half-time thanks to a fine finish, although he owed a debt of thanks to Steve Morison.
The Millwall man showed a willingness all afternoon to pull centre halves out into the channels and when he isolated Adrian Lopez down the right he had the skill to skip past the defender and fire in a deflected cross that was too hot to handle for goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi and Hoolahan was on hand to score.
Morison literally sweated blood for the cause after a fifth-minute clash of heads with Lopez and showed the kind of hunger that has the potential to make him a fans’ favourite at Carrow Road.
Being a goalscorer, he won’t have been fully satisfied with his performance, but his only half chance of any note came midway through the second half when Emmerson Boyce misjudged a headed clearance straight at the 27-year-old but the ball arrived at him too quickly in the six-yard area and the chance was lost.
Wigan certainly shaded the game in terms of clear-cut chances and in Moses they have a player capable of the unexpected. Russell Martin had a difficult afternoon and would have been thankful to the efforts of Andrew Crofts, who tried to offer cover as much as he could down the right whenever Moses was on the ball.
However, City’s midfield did not always give the back four the kind of cover they needed – a hangover perhaps of always going for victory in the last two seasons.
Lambert admitted afterwards his side were too “gung-ho” at times for his liking and it wouldn’t be any surprise to see Norwich sacrifice a forward to offer more defensive protection in future away trips.
But the City boss will have been pleased with his side’s understated return to the top-flight. He will be more than happy for QPR to get the headlines after their heavy defeat against Bolton.
Upon seeing City’s result on Saturday, a few people will have raised an eyebrow at seeing Norwich gain a point against an established Premier League side.
It won’t have come as any surprise to the Canaries’ faithful.
What a difference a few years makes.