City boss Paul Lambert hailed the performance of midfield maestro Jonny Howson, as the Canaries twice came from behind to secure an impressive 2-2 Carrow Road draw with Everton.
The Toffees took the lead when Nikica Jelavic prodded home Phil Jagielka’s cross in the first-half, but Howson’s side-footed finish levelled proceedings five minutes before the interval and it was the January signing’s best performance in a City shirt to date.
The former Leeds captain was lively and proactive throughout and he looks to have that genuine quality needed to succeed in the top flight. That could be one bit of shrewd business by the Canary chief.
However, Jelavic – himself a transfer window addition from crisis club Rangers – was in the right place again to convert Steven Pienaar’s centre on 60 minutes and at that point, David Moyes’ men were looking to close the game out. Norwich felt, however, that play should have been stopped in the build-up with the players waiting for a dead-ball decision with Pienaar appearing to sit on the ball.
But talisman Grant Holt made sure the spoils were shared sixteen minutes later with a tap-in after substitute Aaron Wilbraham’s close-range shot was blocked.
And Lambert was purring on the subject of Howson. It really was a classy showing amongst plenty of Premier League talent on the pitch today.
“I’ve just said to him in there that it is as good a midfield performance as I’ve seen,” the Scot told BBC Radio Norfolk afterwards.
“Jonny was outstanding and he hit one pass in the second-half that [Andres] Iniesta would have been proud of. That’s how good the pass was.
“We played him in behind Grant in the first-half and he was always a goal threat. This football club is hopefully going to have a proper player on its hands.”
And the Norwich boss was delighted with all his players after a performance of real substance. They matched their organised, hard-working opponents stride for stride and on another day, could have taken all three points.
“That was brilliant. I’ve just been saying to the lads that I’ve been here nearly three years and that is as good a performance as I’ve seen from us – after the first 10 minutes or so. I thought we were absolutely brilliant.
“We were up against a really top side with an absolutely brilliant manager. They’ve got some great players and we had to be bang on it today. We were outstanding.
“Everton have been in incredible form the way they’ve been playing and that was as hard a game as we’ve had. But I thought the game was a great spectacle, I really did.”
The match – as pleasing on the eye as it was – was not without its refereeing controversies and as well as the Pienaar incident that led to Everton’s second, many felt Toffees left-back Leighton Baines should have been shown the red card after committing a number of offences in addition to an earlier booking.
The Canaries also had a penalty appeal waved away in first-half injury time when the ball appeared to hit Jagielka’s arm from close range just inside the Everton box.
But Lambert wasn’t in the mood for a bit of referee bashing – a favourite pastime of managers this season it seems.
“I think you always get that, not always actually, but the referee’s job is hard enough. But with the goal that put Everton 2-1 up, I thought everybody had stopped.
“When the ball is tangled up, to stop people getting trod on, the referee indicated to me afterwards that it maybe should have been a dead-ball. But it’s all very well in hindsight to say the referee should have done this and he should have done that.
“I don’t think I can get drawn into it. As I’ve said before the referee calls it and there is lots of frustration. It’s a hard job being a referee but I don’t want to talk about that. I thought my team was excellent.”
The Norfolk side, who now appear to be more than safe nestled in 11th on that ‘magic’ 40-point mark, must now travel to Tottenham for their Easter Monday clash and the City manager is well aware of the task facing them. But if they put in a similar showing to today, Norwich will do themselves proud, whatever the scoreline.
“It’s going to be extremely tough. They are going for the Champions League and Harry Redknapp has got an unbelievable side there. But two years ago we could only dream about this so we’ll go there and give it a go as we always do.”
Norwich: Ruddy; R Martin, Ward, R Bennett, Drury [Naughton 75]; E Bennett, Fox [Wilbraham 65], Howson, Surman; Hoolahan [Crofts 90]; Holt
Subs not used: Steer, Johnson, Jackson, Morison.