Photo Gallery: Toffees crisp, then Norwich City bite back against Everton
Norwich City 2, Everton 2: When Norwich City finally pause for breath to reflect on a rewarding first campaign back in the Premier League, it should be a cause of great satisfaction that one of the major reasons for their survival in the top flight has been their power of recovery.
The point they collected from a keenly-contested battle with FA Cup semi-finalists Everton at Carrow Road was the 14th they have taken this season from games when they have conceded the first goal.
Paul Lambert’s men have chalked up three wins and five draws from matches in which they have initially fallen behind. Lesser sides – indeed, previous City sides – might have folded, especially in the face of top-class opposition, but this group of players seems to be made of sterner stuff.
The Canaries’ place among the elite next season is not a mathematical certainty and, admirably enough, Lambert will be the last man in Norfolk to relax until it is. But with the bottom five sides all beaten at the weekend, a gap of 12 points over the relegation places is not going to be closed with just six games to go or we will all be sprinkling salt and pepper on our hats.
One man happy to accept that his side were in safe water was Grant Holt – Titanic captain of a very buoyant ship – whose 15th goal of the season completed another notable City fightback.
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With or without the blessing of the England hierarchy and TV’s Liverpool mafia, Holt continues to prosper against some of the best teams in the land – two goals now against Everton, one against Chelsea, another in front of the Kop at Anfield, two against Newcastle and a cracker against Manchester United. These are, to all extents and purposes, defences comprising some of the biggest international names in the game, but he is not thought good enough to take on international defences.
On Saturday’s evidence, one might suggest that if Everton centre-back Phil Jagielka is worth 10 caps for England, the man who gave him such an uncomfortable afternoon might be worth at least one go at it. As it is, City fans will be delighted that their top scorer keeps delivering where it matters most, for his grateful employers, and his equaliser was no more than his side deserved for the way they recovered from a fruitless opening half-hour.
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Everton had enjoyed better possession early on and their crisp passing produced the opening goal after 22 minutes. Full-back Leighton Baines, lucky to see out 90 minutes plus stoppage time after an early booking and subsequent ugly challenges on David Fox and Russell Martin, found Jagielka free on the left, and the defender’s cross was touched home deftly by Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic.
It was almost 2-0 moments later when Tony Hibbert’s cross eluded John Ruddy and bounced back off the post to Tim Cahill, but the Australian’s follow-up shot was saved on the line by the ’keeper – by which time the flag was up for offside.
City came alive on 35 minutes when Andrew Surman fired just wide from 20 yards, and they drew level six minutes before the break. Adam Drury and Wes Hoolahan combined on the left and midfielder Jonny Howson arrived unmarked in the six-yard box to sidefoot his first goal for the club.
In first-half injury time, City appeals for a penalty were waved aside when Jagielka appeared to block Surman’s shot at close range with his hands.
After the break, it was anybody’s game. Drury came to City’s rescue seven minutes after the interval with a superb clearance to stop substitute Seamus Coleman converting a Jelavic cross, and at the other end, Howson, inspired by the goal, twice tested goalkeeper Tim Howard with stinging efforts.
It was the visitors, however, who went ahead in controversial fashion after 61 minutes when the impressive Jelavic struck his fifth goal in eight games.
City players appeared to stop, expecting a drop ball, after Steven Pienaar trapped the ball beneath his body, and to compound the issue, referee Marriner was inadvertently blocking off Hoolahan as play carried on and Baines fed Pienaar, back on his feet in time to supply a low cross that was tucked away by Jelavic.
It was a lesson for the Canaries in playing to the whistle, but the confusion summed up the official’s eccentric performance.
City drew level again with 14 minutes to go, and the goal owed much to excellent work by Aaron Wilbraham. The substitute moved on to Hoolahan’s through-ball to strike a firm shot that Howard parried, but Wilbraham did superbly to retrieve the loose ball, hold off Jagielka and set up Holt for a fairly simple sidefoot home.
Either side could still have won it, but substitute Kyle Naughton’s low drive was saved by Howard and, at the other end, Ruddy, performing capably against his old club, clung on to Marouane Fellaini’s header.