Gibson dealt with difficult start to help City recover against Wednesday
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Ben Gibson's performance at Sheffield Wednesday summed up the awkward afternoon for Norwich City as they reclaimed their 10-point lead at the top of the Championship table.
The Burnley loanee was a doubt ahead of the clash with the struggling Owls, as a hamstring strain had disrupted his training during the week leading up to Sunday's trip to Hillsborough.
The central defender shook off that problem to retain his starting role though, alongside Grant Hanley at the heart of the leaders' defence.
City fans are already convinced of the success of Gibson's loan signing, thanks to his influential form during the charge towards promotion, which is poised to activate a permanent switch for around £8million. A bargain, most Canaries supporters would agree.
However, at half-time, plenty were wondering if the centre-back really was fully fit.
He endured a difficult start to the game, with Adam Reach drifting a fine pass forward which played Josh Windass in behind Gibson, forcing the City defender to drag the winger down and concede a free-kick on the edge of the area - earning a yellow card.
The former Middlesbrough man then met Barry Bannan's free-kick flush with a header in the wall but Joey Pelupessy pounced on the loose ball and his low shot deflected kindly to Jordan Rhodes, with the former Norwich striker able to slot past an exposed Tim Krul for 1-0.
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All of a sudden belief rushed through the veins of the struggling visitors, with the chance of a major upset on the cards as they tried to end a run of six consecutive defeats.
Early on, Gibson and Hanley had been able to pass the ball around and try to build attacks from the back as usual, but now the spirited hosts were sitting deep and their forward players were pressing hard when out of possession.
Gibson's sharp pass forward was turned on by Todd Cantwell as City searched for an immediate response but Keiren Westwood dived to his left to deny a shot from Lukas Rupp.
It's passing which has been such a key part of the defender's repertoire this season but he looked rattled, putting too much on one sideways pass towards Emi Buendia which went out of play and with another forward ball towards Buendia intercepted by Bannan.
His defending was fairly sound as usual though, stepping across Rhodes and Windass well to ease them off the ball in dangerous areas - although he was also living dangerously when he turned Windass on halfway, when a loss of possession could have been disastrous.
He tried to step out of defence and stretch Wednesday out of their stubborn shape, squaring a pass from the left wing and finding Cantwell in the 42nd minute - only for the eventual match-winner to take a poor touch.
It was a frustrating half but the second would see normal service resumed for Gibson and the Canaries.
As with all of his team-mates, the passing was sharper as the leaders upped the intensity in search of an eighth successive victory.
There was much less defensive pressure but 10 minutes after Pukki had equalised in the 61st minute, the centre-back stepped up at the perfect moment to block a shot from Kadeem Harris after the wing-back had cut inside Dimitris Giannoulis, with Tim Krul doing superbly to prevent a corner as well.
Then three minutes before Cantwell had claimed the lead spectacularly in the 77th minute, Gibson also made a crucial block of a Windass cross from the right, after a fine pass from Bannan, with substitute striker Jack Marriott lurking in the box.
Then when the big moment came, Gibson had to get out of Buendia's way after the Argentine's perfectly timed tackle on Windass to halt a counter, before sliding Cantwell into the box so that the talented Norfolk boy could seal the deal with a beautiful winner.
VERDICT: Not the smoothest afternoon's work but stabilised after the break. Was walking the tightrope throughout after his early booking and may not have been fully comfortable after his injury worry but experience guided him through - before some important blocks in the second half.
RATING: 6 out of 10