An 88th penalty save from Mark Bunn – coupled to two goals in the final ten minutes from first the visiting Jan Vertonghen and then Simeon Jackson – saw Norwich City through to the last eight of the Capital One Cup this evening with a nerve-shredding 2-1 win over Spurs.
Gareth Bale’s 66th minute opener looked all set to put the Londoners through as Norwich – hoping to make their first appearance in the fifth round of the competition for 17 years – failed to find much by way of a cutting edge.
Three late substitutions by boss Chris Hughton, however, turned the contest on its head as Alexander Tettey played an in-off the luckless Spurs defender for the leveller; that was then followed three minutes later by Jackson’s poached winner after Grant Holt’s 87th minute header was only half saved by the visiting keeper.
Even then the drama wasn’t over as Marc Tierney dived in on Kyle Walker and gave Clint Dempsey the chance to send the game into extra-time from the penalty spot. His effort, however, was brilliantly saved by the former Blackburn No1 and sent Hughton’s blossoming managerial reign into an ever-higher orbit.
As promised, City were much-changed as they played host to their North London visitors – a fact that might help explain a somewhat disjointed opening period in which Bale, almost inevitably, provided the rare moments of attacking threat.
Initially, it wasn’t exactly a rip-roaring cup classic – despite the fact that a place in the quarter-finals was on offer to the winner.
Bunn kept goal; Tierney returned to left-back with the luckless brief to try and keep Bale at bay; Steven Whittaker made a welcome appearance at right-back after his summer injury nightmare; whilst Robert Snodgrass and Andrew Surman offered the width to the right and left respectively. Further forward Steve Morison led the line with Jacob Butterfield flitting off him; David Fox and Jonny Howson pulled the strings in central midfield.
Spurs offered the stronger line-up with Welsh superstar Bale having the likes of Dempsey, Jake Livermore and the two Kyles for company – Walker and ex-City loan star, Naughton.
Whether the ticket price row had dampened the Carrow Road spirits or whether the home faithful simply needed something positive playing-wise to rise to from a shadow starting XI – either way it all made for a low-key opening 45 minutes. It wasn’t, in short, shaping up to be Reading-Arsenal.
In fairness, skipper Howson did deliver one decent moment a minute before the break – a dipping, 25-yard half-volley that had Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris scrambling across his goal only to watch the ball fall a yard wide.
The second-half provided little by the way of immediate up-lift; someone sat on the bench would – in every likelihood – be needed to alter the course of the night’s events; be it Holt for Norwich or Jermain Defoe for Spurs.
In the meantime, it was the young Spaniard Yago Falque left to provide the odd moment of creativity. Just before the hour mark it was his clipped, curling effort that forced Bunn into a decent, one-handed diving save in front of his right upright.
For Norwich, Butterfield briefly unlocked the Spurs defence for Morison with a very smart, 63rd minute reverse ball that needed a brave block from Lloris to keep the scores level. Or at least for the next three minutes.
For on 66 minutes Bale delivered what he had been threatening all evening. Picking the ball up away on the Spurs left, he cut in onto his right and from some 22-yards out hit an unerring drive inside Bunn’s right-hand post. And that, you feared, would be that.
Norwich didn’t go completely quietly into the cup night – Howson pinged a decent effort at Lloris’ near-post which the French international keeper had to turn smartly round his post. Whether – deep down – Hughton would have wished for a late leveller and another 30 minutes of playing time ahead of this weekend’s return to Premier League action was, of course, the moot point.
He did, at least, show positive intent with the arrival of Holt ten minutes from the end. With Jackson already deployed, the Canaries would finish the night with three, out-and-out strikers seeking a way back into the contest.
In the end, all three were surplus to leveller requirements; it was Tettey who delivered – albeit via an own goal.
And kicked a quite extraordinary final ten minutes into compelling life. One winner and a saved penalty later and Norwich were into the quarter-finals at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur.