A 91st minute header from Sebastien Bassong prised a potentially priceless point out of Everton this afternoon as the Canaries once again demonstrated the depth of their Premier League character with a richly-deserved 1-1 draw.
Second best in the opening 45 minutes and rightly behind to Steven Naismith’s 11th minute opener, Chris Hughton’s men upped their game after the interval and finally got their due rewards when Bassong met Javier Garrido’s deep, free-kick with a strong, downward header at the far post that reared up and through keeper Tim Howard.
Everton had their chances to end the contest as Leighton Baines, in particular, tested John Ruddy.
And when the latter disappeared eight minutes from the end of normal time with what looked like a knee injury, so the travelling faithful would have been forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t going to be Norfolk’s afternoon.
But to their credit the spirit that Hughton has clearly instilled in his squad of late rode to City’s rescue and in the finest traditions of his managerial predecessor, so Bassong picked the perfect moment to grab his first goal in Norwich colours as Everton complained bitterly about the free-kick’s original award.
Win your home games; draw you away games – it is a simple formula that has served teams so, so well down the years. And Norwich are doing that to perfection right now as they head for genuine mid-table comfort this winter.
But as they looked to extend that five-game unbeaten run into another week, so boss Hughton was forced to make one change courtesy of Michael Turner’s ill-timed shoulder injury.
In came England Under-21 star Ryan Bennett alongside Bassong; a defence that had shut up shop against Manchester United in last weekend’s famous 1-0 win – and, indeed, had not conceded a goal for 330 minutes suddenly had a new look to it.
Coincidence or not, that proud defensive record ended on 341 minutes, however, as Naismith drove Everton ahead as they made light of the absence of top scorer Marouane Fellaini.
It wasn’t Steven Whittaker’s finest hour in a Norwich shirt as a deep, flighted ball fell over his head and enabled Bryan Oviedo to angle into the penalty area almost unchallenged. His pull-back was perfect for an unmarked Naismith to drill into the roof of the net.
Baines almost doubled Everton’s advantage five minutes later as his low drive forced John Ruddy into a big save, one-handed low to his left. If the Canaries were to deliver their first away win of the season, they would have to do it the hard way this afternoon.
They would also need to have a better clue where the goal was as Grant Holt ploughed a decent forward furrow in the 25th minute only to slash high and wide as opportunity knocked.
Equally, they would need to take a greater grip of proceedings in the middle of the park as Leon Osman bossed affairs and left Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey to play second fiddle. Ruddy’s presence was re-assuring on his return to his former haunts, but Norwich were stuck on the back foot as the interval loomed.
The closest they came was via a 41st minute corner which Bassong rose strongly to meet only for the ball to fly awkwardly off a shoulder and drop wide. And that – attacking-wise – was probably as good as it got.
City certainly started the second period with a more positive intent. Tettey would blaze high and over – it was more the thought that counted – while Anthony Pilkington would at least test Tim Howard in front of his right upright with a decent free-kick. The best chance came just before the hour-mark when Holt sprang free and onside only for Howard to get the most fortuitous of touches to nick the ball away from the City skipper.
Tails up, Wes Hoolahan would squeeze Robert Snodgrass in, only for Thomas Hitzlsperger to clear off the line with Howard well beaten.
It still needed Ruddy to be at his best to thwart a fabulous run and drive from Baines in the 75th minute; for good reason do the locals claim him to be England’s best left-back.
Norwich’s afternoon wasn’t helped by the 82nd minute exit of their hero keeper injured. After his own heroics in the Capital One Cup against Spurs, few would doubt Mark Bunn’s qualities. But it was still not what the Norwich faithful would have wanted to see.
Pilkington almost squeezed a header beneath Howard as Norwich continued to press. With a vengeance ten seconds into added on time…