City boss Chris Hughton was a happy man this evening after prising a big away point from today’s lunchtime trip to big-spending QPR.
Mark Bunn’s brilliant second-half penalty stop to deny Adel Taarabt summed up a sterling, defensive shift from the Norfolk side – the result seeing City edge ever closer to Premier League survival as Rangers equally failed to turn last month’s transfer window spending spree into three, huge points.
And that’s the key for anyone locked in that life or death struggle at the very foot of the table – to simply win a game.
But with Everton’s Marouane Fellaini breaking Villa’s hearts with his 90th minute leveller in this afternoon’s 3-3 draw at Goodison Park, the bottom three failed again to make any dent in City’s seven-point safety cushion.
The only teams beneath the Canaries to make any impression were Newcastle with their 3-2 win over Chelsea and a 2-1 win for Reading over Sunderland. Wigan’s 1-1 draw with Southampton was exactly the result Hughton would have wished for as Norwich’s second game without defeat allows supporters to breathe that little bit easier.
The arrival of both Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara from Sporting Kansas City during the recent window will also ease the goal-scoring burden on skipper Grant Holt; Becchio made his Canary debut three minutes from the end of normal time – alas there was no fairy tale start for the former Leeds hero.
But a point is a point – particularly away from home. As Hughton was swift to recognise afterwards.
“I thought it was a well-deserved point on the balance of play – it’s a good result for us,” said the City chief, whose tried and tested ‘First XI’ again rose to the occasion – even if winger Anthony Pilkington had to disappear mid-way through the first period.
It could have been worse. Rangers’ new-boy Loic Remy no-showed altogether after picking up a groin strain in training yesterday. Not want you want to hear when the £8 million striker is on a reported £75,000 per week.
Bunn, however, wasn’t the only keeper making the headlines; Rangers Julio Cesar had to pull out all the stops to deny City – Wes Hoolahan only being foiled by a ‘worldy’ off a Robert Snodgrass tee-up.
“They’ve got a top class keeper there [Cesar] – and they needed him today,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards. At the other end, Rangers’ record signing – the six-foot five-inch centre-half Christopher Samba – posed a real threat.
Again, credit Norwich for the manner in which they dealt with the £12 million arrival.
“We didn’t do ourselves any favours by giving away too many free-kicks in areas that could have hurt us,” admitted Hughton. “But I thought defensively – from set-plays – we dealt with them very well.”
As for Becchio’s brief appearance, the Canary boss was looking forward to seeing how the six-foot plus Argentinian dove-tailed in with Holt.
“He’ll give us an option up front and it’s been tough for Grant [Holt] this season,” said Hughton, clearly determined that the burden of attacking duties be shared more fairly. All-too often the 31-year-old, three-time player of the season has had to dig an all-too lonely furrow up top.
“What he [Holt] has done though is knuckle down. Playing the one up front as opposed to the two means it’s been a little less open, but he’s a real man Holty. And he’s knuckled down and worked had for the team.
“But what Becchio gives us is another option up front. We can now play two up front against teams when we maybe need a little bit more physical presence up front.”
The fact that this week had merely yielded the two points with today’s draw coming on the back of the mid-week point at home to Spurs was not of a major concern, said Hughton.
Particularly not whilst those beneath Norwich in the team were struggling to find the kind of momentum that propelled City out of the relegation fray in the autumn. Had Villa, for example, held on at Goodison to all three points, Hughton might have had more reason to keep one eye over his shoulder.
“At the moment, although we are not picking up three points, we have played out two good draws and the gap between us and the bottom three is very important,” he added.