City boss Chris Hughton had, among others, referee Mark Clattenburg to thank for limiting the Canaries to a 1-1 draw against QPR this afternoon as a hugely controversial, first-half penalty ripped the early wind from Norwich’s sails – and spared Rangers more indignities.
For though the home side continued to dominate and created by far the greater share of the chances with the ex-Leeds pair of Robert Snodgrass and Jonny Howson taking centre stage, Clattenburg’s decision – just eight minutes after Simeon Jackson had headed City into a well-deserved lead – gave the Londoners a lifeline that they were struggling to find by themselves following their own 5-0 humbling last weekend.
To add to the frustration, England keeper John Ruddy pulled off a magnificent, one-hand save to deny Djibril Cisse’s spot-kick only for a lurking Bobby Zamora to react first and bury the rebound.
So Clattenburg wasn’t alone in denying Hughton his first win on his first home game. Defensively, City were second to react at that moment – prompting a furious reaction from the luckless Ruddy.
Likewise, after the interval as the Canaries continued to play their football and press deep into the Rangers half, so both Snodgrass and new-boy Sabastien Bsssong would see decent chances come and go.
But at least the spirit was more than willing; the football free and flowing. Hughton just needed that break when the officials made that big decision – and he didn’t get it.
Certainly few could argue against Hughton’s positive intent team-wise this afternoon as Holt found himself a central side-kick in the shape of Jackson, while Elliott Bennett’s slight knock enabled Anthony Pilkington and Snodgrass to hog the two wide berths.
At the back, Russell Martin was the sole survivor from the back four that shipped five goals at Craven Cottage – new-boys Bassong and Javier Garrido were thrown straight into the fray with Ryan Bennett making way for Leon Barnett.
Wes Hoolahan, Steve Morison and Chrissy Martin all provided attacking options from the bench; the one absentee, of course, was the Huddersfield-bound James Vaughan.
In the stands somewhere, one presumed, sat Norwich’s seventh signing of the summer – Norwegian international midfielder Alexander Tettey, who joined overnight on a two-year deal from the French club Rennes.
Hughton’s decision to throw Jackson in to the contest was duly and richly rewarded within the first 12 minutes as the Canadian international put City ahead figuring – and ending – in the sweetest of one-touch moves across the QPR box before Pilkington dinked a delightful, teasing cross through the six-yard box where Jackson had the easiest of opportunities to head Norwich in front and bag City’s first Premier League strike of 2012-2013.
Given where both teams were going into this game, the style and manner of City’s opener would have come as a huge relief to all concerned as the Norfolk side purred into life inspired by Pilkington away on the left.
If anyone hoped that this was the start of an easy afternoon, however, referee Clattenburg changed all that on the 19th minute with the harshest of penalty decisions as new-boy Bassong and Djibril Cisse went for the same ball on the penalty spot.
It looked nothing; six of one – to all bar the official. Cisse stood up; Ruddy saved brilliantly low to his right only for Zamora to be the first to react and pop the ball back in the far corner. Miss Fortune had done Hughton no favours whatsoever.
With City enjoying by far the lion’s share of possession – both before and after the interval – Norwich continued to press for a second; Bassong headed wide while under pressure at the far post; Snodgrass would drill an even freer header off target from a 70th minute Bradley Johnson cross.
That was the fear – that there went the big chance of the second period.
Russell Martin came even closer eight minutes from the end as his looping header fell back off Robert Green’s bar.
Before the end and Hughton would throw both Morison and Chris Martin up top in search of that traditional late winner, but try as City might so Rangers failed to yield.
It was a point apiece.
More solid, than spectacular. But they weren’t in the bottom three and pointless tonight. That honour went to someone else.