Chris Hughton’s Canaries recorded a famous victory at Carrow Road tonight, with Manchester United joining Arsenal in leaving Norfolk empty-handed.
A 1-0 win courtesy of Anthony Pikington’s second-half header puts City into 13th place, level on points with Newcastle and it stretches their unbeaten record to six games.
It really was a heroic performance from Hughton’s men, with the hosts playing with discipline and heart for the whole 90 minutes. Praise must also go to the Norwich support, who really cranked up the volume inside a packed Carrow Road.
City went into the contest unchanged for the third game in a row and there was big news coming from the visitors’ dressing room, with Wayne Rooney and David De Gea missing from their line-up.
Three minutes in, Robin Van Persie curled a shot goalwards, only for John Ruddy to safely parry it away for a corner and you could already tell it was going to be a lively affair.
Two minutes later, a speculative Robert Snodgrass shot from outside the box was well over the bar and at the other end, United were slowly but surely trying to impose themselves on the contest.
But Wes Hoolahan fed Pilkington – who was later to be the goal hero – on the counter attack moments later, with the winger’s shot firing wide. United ‘keeper Anders Lindegaard had the angle safely covered anyway.
The game then settled down for a while but City were giving as good as they got and on 17, Hoolahan – so often at the centre of everything positive – wriggled free to fire a shot at goal.
United were not at their fluent best as yet and that man Hoolahan created another opportunity six minutes later, when Snodgrass’ header from his cross wasn’t a million miles away from making the net bulge.
Norwich were now growing in confidence and moments later, Pilkington played through left-back Javier Garrido, only for his powerful left-footed drive to fly past Lindegaard’s left-hand post.
On 31, Alexander Tettey was the next player to get a shot on target and the home faithful were starting to believe. At this point, the Canaries were on top but you can’t keep a team of United’s calibre down for long and they moved up the gears towards the end of the half, with Chris Smalling producing a drilled right-footed shot from 12 yards and Ashley Young having an effort well saved by Ruddy.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were out early for the second period, with the Scot probably needing to make use of his famous hairdryer during the interval, and it wasn’t long until Van Persie edged free in the box, before his poked shot failed to trouble the Canary ‘keeper.
On 51, an in-swinging Snodgrass free-kick from the right caused a moment of panic in the visitors’ box and with the noise levels going up inside Carrow Road – both from the City support and the travelling United fans – there was a good sense of occasion.
And the stadium erupted on the hour mark when the deadlock was finally broken. It took an inch perfect cross from Garrido from the left – after a neat pass from Snodgrass – and you’ll never tire of seeing that glanced header from Pilkington. It felt like slow motion when he made the connection but you knew it was in straight away.
United then introduced Danny Welbeck and Paul Scholes to proceedings but the expected onslaught took a while to materialise. On 75 minutes, the sub Welbeck – who found the net for England in midweek – connected with a header after a Young cross and then aimed another one goalwards seconds later.
As the minutes ticked down, Steven Whittaker and Tettey did well to head the ball away from danger after teasing crosses into the box but as they had been all game, the home side – with their new-found defensive resilience – were reasonably comfortable.
Welbeck’s head was in the action again on 85 but this time his effort was well wide and with just five minutes left of normal time, the Canary faithful could taste a memorable success. For all United’s possession in the closing moments of the match, clear-cut chances were thin on the ground.
And City had one huge chance to make the game safe on 89 minutes, when they really should have wrapped things up. With the Reds pushing forward in numbers, Steve Morison played through his fellow substitute Jonny Howson on the break but while in acres of space, the former Leeds captain dragged his shot horribly wide with only Lindegaard to beat.
The Canaries nearly rued that miss a couple of minutes later when Sebastien Bassong headed a United free-kick goalwards but as is so often the case, Ruddy came to the rescue and three, huge points were in the bag. Awesome.
City: Ruddy; Whittaker, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Snodgrass (E Bennett 90), Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington; Hoolahan (Howson 83); Holt (Morison 83). Subs not used: Bunn, R Bennett, Tierney, Jackson.
Hughton’s defining moment. A superb example of organisation, effort and application. They never stretched us at any point in the game and it was a fully deserved 3 points, which felt like 10.