City full-back Marc Tierney merely said what a lot of people thought this weekend – that the Canaries were just a whisker away from springing an almighty surprise on the mighty Reds.
In the end, of course, two goals in the final 20 minutes of the contest condemned Paul Lambert’s men to a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford, but – as ever – it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Nor was it down to the want of chances as the Canaries flooded forward in support of lone striker Steve Morison. But for one, earlier final ball there or one surer finish there and Norwich could have nicked at least a point from their trip to the Premier League champions.
It was, after all, only the width of a post that denied Anthony Pilkington’s second-half deflected effort.
“We came extremely close – both in the first-half and the second,” said the 26-year-old full-back, widely acclaimed as City’s Man of the Match on a day in which the red half of Manchester looked almost mortal.
It took over an hour for United to click into gear; for that Tierney and his defensive Canary colleagues deserve huge credit as they denied the Champions the room and the time on the ball they need to strut their stuff.
At the other end, Morison, Pilkington and Company all saw the whites of the United keeper’s eyes only to find that final, clinical cutting edge missing. On other days…
“Hitting the post, deflected shots, some good saves from their keeper – I thought we gave it a right good go,” said the one-time Stretford End youngster, who turned the tables on his childhood heroes with a wholly committed defensive display.
“And that’s what we wanted to do – to make both the fans at home and the fans here happy. And I think that’s what we did. We sent them home proud.”
Certainly United found themselves stretched on occasion; a wave of relief flooded through Old Trafford when the deadlock was finally broken deep in the second-half. With yesterday’s results falling Norwich’s way, the Canaries remain ninth in the table – pretty much as high as anyone could have reasonably expected on the club’s return to the top flight.
“I think if you ask any of the players in their dressing room and they’d say they’ve been in a right good game,” said Tierney, now firmly established as City’s first-choice left-back. With the Republic of Ireland running the rule over the former Colchester defender, his own individual season is going a storm.
“It was 0-0 at half-time; we were working them very hard; hitting them on the break on numerous occasions,” he told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“On any other day some of those go in for you and, who knows? Sometimes you can nick three points. But they’re a quality outfit at the top of the league – and that’s what they do; they come away with the win.
“But I think we’ve got to take a lot of confidence from that for the rest of the season.”
Beforehand, both City boss Lambert and new centre-half Russell Martin had insisted that everyone had to be at the races if they were ever to give United a scare. To Tierney’s mind, that was achieved.
“I thought man-for-man, right across the park, everyone was on their game,” he said. “And we have been of late – that’s why we’ve picked up the back-to-back wins against Bolton and Sunderland because they’re no mugs.
“But we had to be today to match some world class players and, hopefully, we can reach those heights in every game and if we do that we shouldn’t do too badly.”
It should certainly put a real spring in everyone’s step going into the next home game – against fellow new-boys Swansea City, albeit after the fortnight’s international break.
It is one of the odd things about the Premiership; barely has it started to get going before everyone is left to twiddle their thumbs again. For clubs not involved in the Champions League, there is no rhythm to the games as there invariably is in the Championship.
Tierney, of course, might not be able to put his feet up should the Republic come to call. With Morison and Andrew Crofts on Wales duty, Russell Martin with that summer Scotland cap and Bradley Johnson on stand-by with England, the players are getting their rewards. And getting noticed.
“I think it shows that people are taking Norwich City seriously now,” said Tierney. “We’re doing well; playing good football and I think people are recognising that we’re quite a force in this league.”
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