Two late goals signal more away-day heartbreak as the Canaries now teeter on the brink of the drop zoneTue 11 Feb 14 by Gary Gowers
Two goals inside the last six minutes were sufficient to consign City to another away defeat, one that leaves them teetering on the brink of the relegation zone with just twelve games left.
And it was the same sorry story for Chris Hughton’s Canaries with profligacy in front of goal again being their downfall; enough chances having been created to have put the game to bed by half-time. But none were taken and the feelgood factor that followed Saturday’s heartening draw with Manchester City has quickly evaporated.
Much of the post-Man City talk was of that performance only being meaningful if it were to be followed up with a good result at Upton Park. And how true. To have drawn another blank when it was imperative to win – or at least avoid defeat – has rendered futile much of the weekend’s good work.
Yet, as we almost tire of repeating, it could have been all so different. A decent all-round performance from which good, clear-cut chances were created should have seen City through to a comfortable win against a Sam Allardyce team that for long periods looked bereft of ideas. Hardly the form of a team who – going into tonight’s game – had won two games on the bounce.
Hughton made just one change from the side that took Manchester City to the wire at the weekend with a fit-again Robert Snodgrass replacing Anthony Pilkington.
Allardyce named an unchanged side following his side’s 2-0 success at Villa Park.
In a fairly scrappy first half – the usual fare one suspects for the Upton Park faithful – it was the home side who edged it in terms of possession but City who showed the greater threat in front of goal.
But yet it was a familiar story for the travelling Yellow Army with Adrián, in the Hammers’ goal, denying City on three occasions.
First up was Gary Hooper when, in the 8th minute, he found himself with a yard of space in the six-yard box only to see his glancing header clawed away by the West Ham keeper; Nathan Redmond the provider.
Next to test the Spaniard was Robert Snodgrass when, on 18 minutes, his perfectly timed run on to a Redmond through ball saw him beat the offside trap. Again the West Ham keeper excelled by blocking Snodgrass’ toe poke when faced one-on-one with the Scot.
And on the stroke of half-time Alex Tettey went within a whisker of giving City a half-time lead, but his well struck shot – following a one-two with Hooper – was expertly palmed away to safety.
At the other end the home side’s main threat was aerial with Carlton Cole ruffling the feathers of Sebastien Bassong and Joseph Yobo; the West Ham striker also seeing two shouts for penalties waved away by Michael Oliver.
Matt Jarvis and Mark Noble were both to warm the gloves of John Ruddy while it took a fine tackle by James Tompkins to deny Bradley Johnson following a swift City counter-attack.
The second half was more of the same although the home side – with Marco Boriello replacing Cole – opted to test City more down the flanks rather than persevere with route one. Also Allardyce’s decision to replace the ineffective Jarvis with Mohamed Diamé gave the Hammers a greater threat down the left flank and ultimately proved to be decisive.
Norwich carved out another excellent chance – their best one of the night – on 70 minutes, when Johnson found a slide rule pass to set Hooper clear in the inside right channel, but his attempt to tuck the ball inside Adrián’s near post was thwarted by the keeper’s flailing left boot.
So close again for City and so costly.
Hooper’s work for the night was called to an end on 76 minutes – the roll of lone striker an exhausting one – with Hughton opting to replace him with Johan Elmander; the Swede yet to open his Premier League account this season.
City were given a warning of things to come on 77 minutes when Ruddy had to be at his best to block a goal-bound effort from Diamé; the substitute finding too much room in the Norwich penalty area.
With ten minutes remaining the Canaries’ most potent attacking threat on the night, Nathan Redmond, made way for Anthony Pilkington; the youngster one assumes showing signs of fatigue.
Yobo was to go close for City – his volley looping over the crossbar – before the West Ham late show broke City hearts and ensured the three points stayed in the East End.
James Collins was first to wield the dagger with his close range header from Diamé’s inswinging cross, leaving a red-faced and statuesque Ruddy grasping at thin air; the City keeper’s decision to go rather than stay being the wrong one.
In injury-time, with City pushing in vain for an equaliser, West Ham wrapped it up with a classic sucker punch. Again Diamé was involved, his pace and strength taking him all too easily clear of Russell Martin, and with Johnson attempting to close him down his shot squirmed past Ruddy via a deflection off the City right-back.
And that was it, 2-0. Job done for Big Sam whose smile at the end said it all.
The frowns and furrowed brows in the opposite dugout told a rather different story.