City boss Chris Hughton needed to be at his diplomatic best this weekend as he cast his eye back over yesterday’s 1-1 home draw with Queen’s Park Rangers.
For having got all the response he might have been looking for from his players following that opening day hammering at Fulham, having been vindicated in his decision to pair Simeon Jackson with Grant Holt as James Vaughan left for Huddersfield and having marched into that early lead against an anxious Rangers, so events turned on one penalty decision.
Not even Djibril Cisse was seeking to appeal as both he and Norwich new-boy Sabastien Bassong slid to the ground together; there was no mass appeal from the visiting Rangers players as the ball angled off and away for a goal-kick.
But referee Mark Clattenburg viewed the incident differently – and once Bobby Zamora had reacted first to Cisse’s saved spot-kick, so Rangers were back in a contest that they looked to be fast losing.
“I thought it was a very soft penalty,” said Hughton, Zamora’s early incursion into the box before the kick was taken adding to the sense of injustice.
Particularly given the fact that John Ruddy did so well to tip Cisse’s effort onto the base of his right upright. Briefly, justice appeared to have been served.
“Cisse is stretching for the ball,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards. “And his momentum would take him down anyway. I accept – I think – that Seb [Sebastien Bassong] didn’t get contact on the ball.
“I’ve seen it several times now and it is a very soft penalty. You’ll see numerous incidents like that in games and them not be given. But the double whammy is the fact that on the referee’s side Zamora is at least three yards in the box when the penalty is taken and gives them an advantage over our two lads.
“That one is tough to take – particularly when we played so well.”
And had done so much to try and make amends for the horrors of Fulham in front of that ever-expectant Carrow Road crowd.
“They – and us – were all hurting from last week and I expected a response,” said Hughton, who sought – and received – the bounce back required to ‘close out’ events by the Thames.
“How you get it with the run of the ball and that little bit of fortune, you never know. But I thought we put in a performance today that was certainly worthy of a win. And I thought a very, very soft penalty saw us not get that win.
“But certainly on the chances, the possession and the tempo of our play, I thought we were better on the day.”
The Canary chief had proved no shrinking violet when it came to ringing the changes – out went three of the back four that were all-too easily dismantled at Craven Cottage as Leon Barnett joined the new arrivals Bassong and Javier Garrido in a new-look City defence.
By and large, they kept QPR at arms length as Norwich continued to dominate both the possession and the play. Russell Martin would see a second-half header fall back off the bar; Robert Snodgrass would direct a free header off target; Grant Holt put in a big, big shift; Jonny Howson kept the ball moving at pace in the middle.
There were a wealth of positives to work off – not least the knowledge that Hughton now has Alexander Tettey to add to his midfield brew as the Norwegian international midfielder sat and watch events unfold from the stands.
All that was missing was the win.
“I made some changes – I could have gone with the same team and got the same performance, you never know,” said the Canary chief, the decision to drop Jackson into the space next to Holt being rewarded with that excellent, 11th minute opener.
“I thought Simeon’s overall performance was good – and he also had a very good chance early in the second-half. But its been difficult for him. We’ve got a few strikers here and I’ve had to manoeuvre them round a little bit.
“So some of them are lacking a little bit of rhythm, but delighted for him to come in and do so well.”