Photo Gallery: Stats the way to do it... Norwich City’s wait over
Bolton 1, Norwich City 2: It was a day for anoraks at the Reebok Stadium – and not because of the early autumn chill or the occasional shower.
The reference is to those of a statistical persuasion, and one must plead guilty on that score, who were ticking off various records as Norwich City chalked up the victory they hope will sharpen their appetite for taking bigger scalps.
Summer signings Anthony Pilkington and Bradley Johnson provided the goals that gave the Canaries their first Premier League away win since December 1994, when a certain Ashley Ward secured a 1-0 success at Crystal Palace.
The 17-year gap is not quite as dramatic as it sounds, since the intervening period has included only a season and a half of top-flight football, and City’s barren run lasted a mere 32 games in the elite division without winning on their travels.
Nevertheless, it provided a neat line for those who may have regarded Bolton Wanderers’ fifth successive Premier League home defeat, straddling two seasons, or City’s fifth penalty conceded in successive games as secondary facts and figures.
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One can only guess at how many of those who made the trip to Lancashire were also at Selhurst Park all those years ago, but if that particular result during John Deehan’s reign as manager was one last hurrah before the club suffered a dramatic fall from grace, the mood on Saturday night would have been a great deal more optimistic as supporters returned home.
There was possibly a degree of unease about the fact that City had taken just two points from a possible 12 on their return to higher status, and it will not necessarily have subsided when Paul Lambert’s teamsheet once again showed wholesale changes from the previous match, six in all, with Wes Hoolahan the third player to wear captain’s armband in six league and cup games, and another different formation on show. Yet so splendidly did the Canaries adapt to their latest reshuffle that they appeared to have the game in the bag by half-time – and until the latest in a string of soft penalties they have conceded kept them on red alert for the final 25 minutes.
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Bolton looked as if they were still trying to shake off the effect of heavy home defeats at the hands of the two Manchester clubs as City began on the offensive.
Elliott Bennett, looking for his first goal in Canary colours, almost provided it in the sixth minute when he struck a left-foot shot that Jussi Jaaskelainen – the ’keeper Bolton snatched from under Norwich’s noses in 1997 – had to tip over the bar.
The Finn then had to deny Steve Morison in a one-on-one after World Cup final referee Howard Webb failed to stop play for a foul on Bennett – the ’keeper was booked for protesting – and he was grateful to hang on to a header from Russell Martin, following a cross by recalled midfielder David Fox.
With 15 minutes gone, City defender Leon Barnett escaped punishment for an unintentionally dangerous challenge on Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic, but the knock on the head may have contributed to later controversy.
Goalkeeper John Ruddy had to claw away a dangerous Martin Petrov cross one-handed, but City’s superiority was rewarded after 37 minutes when Pilkington struck.
Bennett’s shot was deflected for a corner, taken by Fox. Barnett got his head there first, Morison returned the ball from beyond the far post and Pilkington turned it into the net, via the woodwork and, it appeared, the heel of Tuncay.
The celebrations had not died down when the Canaries made it 2-0 three minutes before the break. Bennett was fouled by Paul Robinson and, as Fox swung in the free-kick from the right, Johnson rose to score with a powerful header.
Klasnic’s moment of madness came in first-half stoppage time when he squared up to City’s Marc Tierney in the Norwich area and aimed a head-butt at the full-back, who went down clutching his face. The contact appeared minimal and the fall a shade theatrical but Klasnic was surrounded by angry City players and, after consulting an assistant, referee Webb had no choice but to produce the red card.
Though 10-man Bolton made two changes at the break and demonstrated more urgency, the second period was without major incident until the 64th minute, when City were rocked by the fifth penalty award against them in as many games. Dedryck Boyata found space to squeeze a cross past Russell Martin from tight on the byline and as Barnett chal-lenged substitute David Ngog, he went tumbling.
Webb pointed straight to the spot and Petrov, the one Bolton player to shine, stepped up to tuck the perfect penalty past Ruddy.
Morison might have restored City’s two-goal advantage when he turned neatly on to a cross by Hoolahan, but after doing the tricky bit, he fired wide.
In four minutes of additional time, Bolton’s last chance came and went when Ngog met fellow substitute Chris Eagles’ cross with his head, but Ruddy leapt to his right to make a timely save and guarantee three points.