City take themselves eight points clear of the Premier League bottom three courtesy of a dour, but effective home drawSat 9 Feb 13 by Rick Waghorn
A third successive draw this afternoon saw the Canaries grind their way ever further away from the Premier League drop-zone – albeit via a largely forgettable 0-0 home draw with fellow mid-table grafters Fulham.
The contest was rarely easy on the eye; chances remained few and far between from first minute to last.
But it put another point on the board and extended Norwich’s unbeaten run of late to three games – in itself, not to be sniffed at. No-one ever said that Premier League survival was going to be pretty and today’s contest was a case in point as two, uncompromising defences made light work of their opposing attacking numbers.
It was events elsewhere that gave today’s latest draw its greater significance.
As dour as it may have been, heavy defeats for both QPR and Wigan ensured that the Canaries extended their advantage over the bottom three clubs to eight points – and all with one game less to play.
Defeats for Reading, Newcastle and Sunderland also ensured that Norwich have plenty of company in that mid-table war zone; no-one is racing away from trouble in a hurry.
Equally City’s hopes of prising something out of their visitors early on were not helped by the lunchtime news that skipper Grant Holt had tweaked his back and would miss the day’s events.
At least, boss Chris Hughton had a ready-made and in-form replacement to call on as Luciano Becchio made his first home start in the lonely role ahead of new Republic of Ireland star Wes Hoolahan.
With Anthony Pilkington absent with the hamstring trouble that ruled him out of the same Republic trip as Hoolahan so enjoyed, so Elliott Bennett was handed a rare start; otherwise it was City’s first choice XI seeking to put ever greater distance between themselves and the bottom three.
In that simple, survival aim, mission was accomplished this afternoon.
Becchio actually enjoyed the first opportunity of note just after the five-minute mark when he forced Mark Schwarzer into a save off a Javier Garrido cross.
Thereafter, however, the game became something of a mid-table war of attrition with both sides knowing that three points at this stage of the season could make everyone sleep somewhat easier; by the same token, a narrow defeat would keep the nerves jangling for another week.
And in Brede Hangeland Fulham possessed one of the more rugged defenders in the Premier League; someone for a former Carlisle tyre-fitter to mess with on another afternoon.
Not for the first time, it was Robert Snodgrass who huffed and puffed the most in the City attacking cause; once again, the Scottish international failed to find the one, crucial opening that his sheer industry deserved.
Twice more before the break Becchio would be presented with a chance to test Schwarzer; on both occasions, however, the Argentinian’s header was found wanting.
At the back, the Canaries remained relatively untroubled with the returning Dimitar Berbatov playing the game at his traditional walking pace. Steve Sidwell at least got Mark Bunn to hurry himself the once shortly after the re-start; otherwise, it was another sound day at the office for the Bassong-Turner show.
Five minutes from the end of normal time and Hughton threw his second, strike arrival of the transfer window into the contest as Kai Kamara replaced Becchio. With Simeon Jackson on for Elliott Bennett, the City chief was at least going for it in the game’s last exchanges – even if Hangeland and Co refused to yield.
In fairness to the MLS star, he made a reasonable impression with a big, leaping header that flew high onto the roof of the net, before a fine surging run down the City left found Hoolahan freeing the new man only for the white shirts to flood back and squeeze the space down.
Kamara also did his bit in his own half; a big tackle to clear the ball as Fulham forced an injury-time corner.
That, too, came to nothing as the game petered out into a draw. Another big point gained – or two more lost? That will be the debate tonight as Norwich continue to inch ever further north and leave the rest to their Premier League survival fates.