Spot of bother for valiant Norwich City
Chelsea 3, Norwich City 1: As Norwich City get to grips with their new life in the Premier League, they could be forgiven for thinking there is some unwritten rule that entitles their opponents to at least one penalty every match.
Three spot-kicks conceded in three games – two scored, one saved – and two associated dismissals might, on the one hand, suggest their defence is struggling to cope with the pace of their opponents at a higher level of football.
On the other, it is hard not to conclude that they have been victims of match officials who are a bit too quick on the draw, at least with the red cards.
Saturday’s flashpoint at Stamford Bridge, when City goalkeeper John Ruddy was adjudged to have brought down Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder, Ramires, was probably more of a penalty than the previous two – especially since the double decision against Leon Barnett in the Stoke game was a complete joke.
But the sending-off of Ruddy, when Ramires had all but lost control of the ball, was a trigger-happy reaction by referee Mike Jones that cost the Canaries any realistic chance of getting on terms for a second time, when there were still effectively 20 minutes left thanks to the long delay when Chelsea’s Didier Drogba suffered a head injury.
Instead, the hosts, going 2-1 up thanks to Frank Lampard’s clinical spot-kick and suddenly handed a one-man advantage, were able to regain the control that City had so valiantly wrenched from them over the previous hour.
In addition, Ruddy faces a one-match ban when West Bromwich Albion visit Carrow Road on Sunday, September 11, after the international break, so the punishment is not confined to the match in question.
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It was something of a surprise at Chelsea when manager Paul Lambert adopted a third different formation in as many Premier League games by using three central defenders, a ploy that had not proved a great success the last time it was tried at Burnley in February, and when City went a goal down inside six minutes, one feared the worst.
Ruddy had already dived to his right to keep out a powerful second-minute drive from Ramires when Jose Bosingwa took Frank Lampard’s pass, advanced unchallenged into shooting range and powered home a 25-yard drive.
But the Canaries weathered the early pressure, grew in confidence and three times in the space of a minute, they threatened to level.
First Wes Hoolahan picked out Chris Martin on the right side of the area and his low shot was parried by ‘keeper Hilario, then Martin retrieved and fed Kyle Naughton, whose powerful effort was tipped over by Henrique Hilario. And Hilario was forced into action again as he dived to smother skipper Grant Holt’s header from a cross by Naughton.
City reshuffled again after half an hour when they lost defender Zak Whitbread to a hamstring injury, and before the break Hilario was tested by a well-struck effort from Hoolahan from more than 30 yards, while Ruddy clutched a swerving drive from Florent Malouda to his chest.
Lambert introduced Steve Morison for Hoolahan on the hour and, three minutes later, City’s 3,000 travelling fans went wild with delight as Holt levelled the scores with his first Premier League goal.
Naughton’s cross from the right caused the problem for Chelsea as Branislav Ivanovic jumped with ‘keeper Hilario, but the defender succeeded only in heading the ball straight into the air, and as it dropped Holt hooked it expertly over his own head into the empty net with a well-judged volley.
The impetus was lost a little when Drogba was inadvertently knocked out cold by Ruddy as they jumped for a high ball, prompting a seven-minute hold-up before he departed on a stretcher.
Still Morison could have given City the lead in the 73rd minute when Holt hooked the ball forward and he raced clear, but he delayed his shot just long enough for John Terry to get back and deny him.
Instead, the decisive action came in the other goalmouth with just over 10 minutes left when substitute Nicolas Anelka’s superb through-ball sent Ramires racing clear, leading to the penalty and Ruddy’s removal from the action.
After another long hold-up, while hostilities broke out in the technical area, striker Chris Martin was sacrificed to enable Declan Rudd to replace the senior ‘keeper – and his first act was to pick the ball out of the net as Lampard blasted home the penalty.
In the 11 minutes added on for those two delays, Rudd saved from �20m substitute Romelu Lukaku, but Chelsea’s �23m substitute Juan Mata did manage to make it 3-1 right on the whistle when he latched on to Ritchie de Laet’s ill-advised attempt to find his ‘keeper and produced a cool finish. By then, though, it didn’t really Mata.