Hard-pressed Canary boss Chris Hughton pulled another big rabbit out of the hat this afternoon when his struggling City side dug out a potentially priceless Premier League point against high-flying, big-spending and free-scoring Manchester City.
Whilst the 0-0 draw, on paper, might be seen from afar as the product of a desperate, rearguard action, in reality the home side delivered almost as many attacking punches as their visitors and, indeed, came agonisingly close to delivering one of the shocks of the season in the final minute of normal time as the ball whipped through a City six-yard box with the goal a-gaping.
For all the spirit and endeavour on effort, Norwich were still only two points above the drop zone and with West Ham pulling off a huge, 2-0 win away at Aston Villa, Tuesday night’s trip to Upton Park will be a big, big date in Norwich’s survival diary.
But this was good. Little or no sign of any dressing room having thrown a towel in. Norwich were well worthy of their prized point.
In fairness to the Canaries, they managed to force two corners in the game’s opening ten minutes as Hughton threw new loan signing Joseph Yobo right in at the deep end – starting at the heart of that Canary defence alongside skipper Sebastien Bassong.
A little while later and handing Nathan Redmond a welcome start almost paid dividends as the teenager slipped free through the inside right channel only to blaze wide as the whites of Joe Hart’s eyes loomed. Norwich weren’t being over-awed. They had found their best front foot for the visit of the Premier League giants.
In fact they even found the back of Hart’s net in the 18th minute as Gary Hooper pounced following another corner. Alas he pounced from an off-side position and the assistant cut everyone’s celebrations short.
City – as in the visiting one – were, by their standards, underwhelming; the fact that Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho and Samir Nasri were all absent injured might have helped. But they were hardly short of talent.
Norwich’s three-man central midfield of Leroy Fer, Alexander Tettey and Bradley Johnson were offering the counter-argument to those that insist that Norwich need to go two up top at the expense of that extra body in midfield.
It might have left Hooper with a thankless task and Ricky van Wolfswinkel on the bench, but the home side were not being swamped and, for now, were holding firm.
Álvaro Negredo caught sight of the Norwich goal twice after the half-hour mark but failed to convert on either occasion and as the half-time whistle blew, Norwich were still in the contest. Given the context of the occasion and the level of the opposition, 0-0 at the break was as much as many had dared hope for.
With the second period pottering along in much the same way as the first, the Premier League’s finest were collectively having a quiet day at the office. The Canaries were, by contrast, on their game. They had yet to take their brain out of gear Cardiff-style and in Yobo had a wiser head slammed into that back line.
Equally, with Pilkington, Tettey and Fer in that five-strong midfield they had genuine athleticism of a Premier League shape and standard. In Redmond they had pace; in Bradley Johnson they had a classic back alley scrapper.
They just didn’t have a strike pal for Hooper.
On the hour he almost found one in the marauding Russell Martin. It was a Silva-esque back-heel that set the City full-back with an opportunity to blaze high and wide. But if nothing else it kept the visitors thinking. This wasn’t going all their own way.
Far from it.
As the clock ticked away, there was a growing sense that should common sense prevail and should Europe’s free-est scoring side nick something from somewhere it would be a rank injustice on Norwich’s efforts.
One slight concern was an early exit for an injured Hooper. It gave van Wolfswinkel 20-plus minutes to finally fire his season into life. Likewise a potentially full 90-minutes at Upton Park on Tuesday night when – should Hooper be unavailable – all eyes will be on the £8 million Dutchman to deliver.
And that would be the lingering concern. There is no shame to be had in drawing a blank against Vincent Kompany and Co. It is the lesser fry that Norwich need to put to the sword over the course of the next three months. And to do that, they will need goals.
As the game headed into the final five minutes of normal time, so the Canaries were firmly with their backs to the wall; 11 men right behind the ball as the other City pressed.
But when they broke…
Twice in the space of a minute, Redmond would hit the byline and drill a ball across the visitors six-yard box; the champions-elect well and truly turned. Moments later and Pilkington was twisting Pablo Zabaleta inside out before driving just over.
Norwich were far from clinging on. They had taken a big point off Manchester City – and all without parking a bus anywhere.