Chris Hughton’s quest to deliver his first Premier League win as Norwich City manager will continue back in the North-East next weekend as a combination of the ageless Jussi Jaaskelainen, poor finishing and – potentially – referee Chris Foy denied the Canaries against West Ham United this lunchtime.
Foy first. The official made a huge call in the midst of that 0-0 draw to award Norwich no more than a free-kick as a headless James Collins felled Andrew Surman on the very edge of the Hammers box. Ball and player were both well inside the box; the point of impact might – on the replay – have been an inch outside.
If so, it was genius call from the referee. One which both Canary manager and fans alike could have done without.
Thereafter, it was a case of trying to find a way beyond the Hammers keeper as Norwich again enjoyed the greater share of possession only again to miss out on all three points minus that final finish.
Simeon Jackson would bring the best out of the Finn; substitute Harry Kane would be denied a fairy-tale debut seconds from the end by the Hammers No1 as those tiny margins worked once more in the visitors favour.
Unbeaten at home to Queen’s Park Rangers and now West Ham United? Or without a win at home to Queen’s Park Rangers and now West Ham United?
Once again, Bradley Johnson was shining on centre stage in what proved to be a bright and breezy opening half.
It was his surging, 17th minute run that finally found Norwich – or rather Tottenham hero Robert Snodgrass – taking aim from a central free-kick some 25-yards out. Blocked initially as City missed the option of hamstring-victim Anthony Pilkington from set-plays, the Canary winger would in fairness retrieve possession well and wiggle his way in behind the back line only to fall all-too spectacularly over a static Mark Noble.
It cut no ice with the officials. They weren’t playing ball. Nor would they again 20 minutes later.
It was far from all one way traffic, however, as John Ruddy was forced into an instinctive block off a sharp, Noble stab in the 19th minute as the Hammers worked their way down the City right.
On the half-hour mark and the Canaries were battering the Hammers goal. Snodgrass, Holt twice and Russell Martin would all test Jaaskelainen after the former had seized on a mistake by Joey O’Brien and left the visitors floundering, briefly, on the ropes.
For now, however, West Ham were holding firm.
The biggest decision of the half arrived on that 40th minute mark as Collins lost his head and swept the feet from beneath Surman in or on the very edge of the Hammers box. It was a cat’s whisker only between City and a spot-kick. But on the replay referee Foy appeared to have called it correctly; that controversy would rage on afterwards – as it did with the award of the QPR penalty.
Either way, once again the ball was drilled straight at the Hammers wall and such an inviting position proved a missed opportunity to make greater possession count.
As the game progressed at least it became clear again that Hughton had found himself with two, decent pairings at the heart of his Class of 2012-13 – Sabastien Bassong and Leon Barnett at the back; Johnson and Jonny Howson in the centre of that midfield.
All four were evident after the re-start; Howson skipping away from two challenges before angling an inviting ball into the feet of Jackson. If that chance went away from the Canadian, his next moments later demanded a fine, spreading save from Jaaskelainen to guide a dipping 25-yarder over.
It was a sign of how well that Bassong-Barnett partnership was working in that Carlton Cole’s afternoon ended before the hour-mark to be replaced by Modibo Maiga. The City pair even combined in the opposition box off a deep Snodgrass free-kick on the hour-mark – only for Jaaskelainen to again comfortably collect.
There lay Norwich’s challenge. Getting the ball beyond the former Bolton hero.
That baton first passed to Steve Morison and then to the on-loan Kane as Messrs Jackson and Holt made way for players new.
The flow and the early rhythm were not quite there as Norwich looked to squeeze more than just a point out of the contest. Howson would let Snodgrass in, only for the Canary winger to get half the connection he would have hoped.
Kane got the connection just not the angle as he danced away from his marker five minutes from the end; an even better opening would present itself to the teenager before the final whistle only for Jaaskelainen to again to thwart Norwich’s best endeavours.
Three games unbeaten for the Canaries as Mr Foy finally blew? Or three more games without a win for new boss Hughton?
Once again the glass half-full brigade will be swapping opinions with those of the half-empty wing long into the night as City’s start to the new season continued in its solid, if less than spectacular vein.