City boss Glenn Roeder tonight held his hands up and declared the 1-1 draw with Hull City “a fair result” – and pointed to further compelling evidence of just how far the Canaries have come in three short months.
For the fact that the Norfolk side were disappointed to have only drawn against a well-drilled Tigers' outfit was, said the City chief, a sign of the times. Norwich now expect to win every game. Home or away.
'Disappointed?' was the first questin from the floor tonight, after Dion Dublin's first home goal of the season was wiped out by Frazier Campbell's break-away strike seven minutes after the restart.
“Disappointed?” said Roeder. “Doesn't that just show how far Norwich have come? I keep talking about the end of October when I came here, but then you'd have grabbed that point.
“And now we're disappointed that against a good Hull team we haven't taken all three – but we are disappointed as a group. We can play better; you've all seen us play better.
“But it was the right result. We didn't deserve to lose the game, but I can't put my hand on my heart and say that we deserved to win it either.”
All was set reasonably fair at the interval after Dublin's looping header had given Norwich an early advantage. A flying, one-handed save from Tigers keeper Boaz Myhill denied a Lee Croft curler at one end; at the other and Gary Doherty bundled one half-chance clear after Norwich keeper David Marshall had taken more of Jason Shackell than the ball.
Otherwise, the home side were well-placed to rack up a fourth straight win in front of a bumper and buoyant Carrow Road crowd. Come the restart, however, and the Canaries started to become a little untidy in their play. Only a world class save from Marshall denied Campbell a free header, before the latter squeezed onto the end of a perfectly-weighted through-ball from Jay-Jay Okocha and with both Jason Shackell and Ryan Bertrand floundering, the on-loan Manchester United striker poked a scrabbly leveller beneath the Canary keeper.
Come the last 20 minutes and Norwich were back knocking on Myhill's door again. But for all their best endeavours they couldn't unlock a ten-man Tigers' defence twice. A point apiece it was – that 13-game unbeaten run still intact.
“There was a lot of things that was disappointing about the goal,” said Roeder, whose side has not now conceded two goals in the league since that trip to Stoke City on the first weekend in December.
“But I have to say first of all that Okocha's pass was supremely-weighted,” said the Canary chief, who made a point of waiting and shaking the 34-year-old's hand afterwards. Respect. Big respect for the former Bolton Wanderers hero.
“I can't remember the last time I waited to shake an opposing player's hand, but I did down the tunnel for Okocha. I saw him in France '98 when he was a young player and he's a stunning player. There's not many players that would make me pay money to go and watch, but I'd pay to watch Okocha.
“But I still feel our two defenders should have done better in dealing with it; we didn't and it was a scuffy shot – it wasn't even a good shot and the ball, unfortunately, slid under David's body. But he'd made a world class save that helped us secure the point.”
Tonight's game saw Kieran Gibbs make his first Canary appearance since his deadline-day switch from Arsenal. Away on the left, he cut a slightly lost figure as he failed to make any real impact on the proceedings.
Roeder was quick to defend the 18-year-old and, reasonably enough, pointed to the fact that the ball invariably found its way to the in-form Lee Croft away on the right first. Gibbs' day will come. It just wasn't his day tonight.
“It was a tough game for him to come into,” said Roeder, after resting Mo Camara and slipping the excellent Ryan Bertrand back into his natural position at left-back.
“And I'm not disappointed with what he (Gibbs) did. We starved him of the ball in the first-half – and that's not his fault.
“When you're playing wide you do rely on other players in the team to give you the ball in the way that Crofty got a lot of the ball in the first-half. But Kieran was starved of it,” added the City chief, with further words of encouragement for the 18-year-old.
“From what I've seen in training I can see why Arsene (Wenger) sees him as one of his top young talents. He's 18-years-old and in a couple of years time you won't recognise him as the young player that we saw tonight. He's extremely talented.”
The one slightly sour note was the disappearnce of Matthew Bates who, Roeder reported, “jarred his knee” in a first-half challenge on Campbell. Given that the 21-year-old Boro defender has ruptured cruciates in both knees over the last 14 months everyone's unease was understandable. You half sensed from the start that his arrival this January was, in part, always designed to see just whether or not either rebuilt knee was ready for the rigours of senior football.
Bates' exit on the hour-mark did, however, allow opportunity to knock again for Jon Otsemobor – one that he took with both hands as he slid effortlessly back into his right-back role.
“Matthew's had one or two knee problems in the last year that has kept him out of football; we hope its not too serious, but we'll assess it in the morning.”
Given that Roeder described the pitch awaiting the Canaries at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday as “the worst in the Championship”, Bates may yet find himself spared that prospect which then, in turn, might free up another of his five loan places for Reading winger James Henry who joined Camara in the stands this evening.
Whether Camara can prise Bertrand out of that left-back slot is another matter. Roeder, it appears, is a big fan of the on-loan Chelsea starlet.
“I like him a lot – I like everything about him,” said the City boss, as Bertrand enjoyed his best outing yet in a Canary shirt. “He's a player that you enjoy coming to work with every day because of how he is as a human being and as a person. But I think I've advertised him enough already…”
Which, if you read the signs right, suggests Roeder may yet be found fishing for a full-time deal this summer.
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