It was a tale of two goalkeepers at Shepherds Bush as City edge a little closer to safety with a hard-earned point at rock-bottom QPR. It took a terrific Mark Bunn penalty save in the second to earn the Canaries a highly valuable clean-sheet, with QPR’s Julio Cesar doing a similarly impressive job in the QPR goal.
Chris Hughton named an unchanged line-up following Wednesday’s draw with Tottenham, with new signing, Luciano Becchio being named amongst the subsitutes.
Harry Redknapp – fresh from a £22 million midweek spending spree – named two new signings in his starting XI, Christopher Samba’s giant presence being added to their back-lined and Andros Townsend starting wide on the QPR left. A plus for City was the non-appearance of new French striker, Loic Remy – the much-publicised fragile body letting him and his manager down for the first, and probably not the last, time.
In a fairly nondescript first-half it was City who went in the happier, having restricted the home side to a few speculative efforts. Typically, Adel Taarabt was the Canaries main threat with his usual mix of drag-backs, step-overs and surging runs, but – with Jamie Mackie playing as the home side’s lone striker – Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner enjoyed a relatively untroubled first period.
The closest either side came to an opening goal was in the 14th minute when Taarabt’s trickery fed Mackie in the inside right channel but, with his back to goal, he worked an opening but flashed his shot inches wide of Bunn’s left hand post.
Shaun Wright-Philips also had a chance to test Bunn – again Taarabt the provider – but sliced his shot wide, under pressure from Javier Garrido.
First City’s part, their greatest goalscoring threat came in the air – ironic given the size of the QPR central-defenders – with Grant Holt and Robert Snodgrass both testing Cesar with headers; each time the end result of a period of City possession.
One sour note for Norwich was the loss of Anthony Pilkington, with what looked to be a hamstring injury; Elliott Bennett his replacement in a like-for-like swap.
If the first-half was pretty much a case of honours even, the second was a more open affair and was dominated for long periods by the home team.
Buoyed – one assumes – by some typical Harry ‘rabble-rousing’, the home side carried more of a goal threat in the second period and forced the Canaries into some desperate defending.
Having said all of that, it was City who came closest to breaking the deadlock from open play when, on 52 minutes, Cesar saved brilliantly at point-blank range from Hoolahan, after Snodgrass had picked out the Irishman with a perfect cross.
A couple of minutes later, Turner went close for City, but his effort – from close range – flew over the bar as he struggled to get free of the clutches of the giant Samba.
The game’s defining moment came on 55 minutes when some QPR pressure ended with Mackie going down in the box under pressure from Bunn. Referee Jon Moss was quick to award QPR the penalty and show Bunn a yellow card; TV replays suggesting he was correct on both counts.
Unsurprisingly it was Taarabt who stepped up to take the kick, but with no joy as Bunn dived to his left to save brilliantly. At the opposite end the Yellow Army erupted in celebration; Bunn’s save producing the save reaction, and impact, as a goal.
More QPR pressure followed – inspired by Taarabt (typically) and sub Bobby Zamora – with Redknapp adding two more brand-new faces to proceedings in the shape of Jermaine Jenas and Tal Ben Haim.
City’s Bradley Johnson was next to be thwarted by Cesar; his 25-yarder following a good City passing move being turned round the post by QPR’s keeper.
Fortunately for City – despite Zamora adding a different dimension to the R’s attack – none of their expensively assembled line-up were able to find a way past Bunn, with even Redknapp strugging to turn the Tony Fernandes millions into a winning side.
In the closing minutes City fans were granted their first view of Becchio in a Norwich shirt – his 87th minute arrival being at the expense of Hoolahan – and would have been impressed with some nice touches and a strong aerial presence.
Despite City being forced into a late rearguard action – not helped by their inability to retain possession, the longer the game went on – they were able to hold for a prized point, and rightly earned the plaudits of the Yellow Army for a gutsy effort.
A point against the bottom side, following the midweek draw with Tottenham, suggests the Canary ship has indeed been steadied, but makes three points against Fulham next Saturday look an absolute must.