City chief Chris Hughton was clearly hoping that John Ruddy’s early exit in the 1-1 draw with Everton yesterday would prove nothing too serious as the Canaries extended their unbeaten run to six games.
Sebastien Bassong’s 91st minute downward header proved enough to nick a point out of David Moyes’ men and keep the Norfolk side bubbling along very nicely, thank you.
The point took them up to 13th spot in the table – six points clear of the relegation zone where Reading, Southampton and QPR continue to struggle.
Aston Villa failed to match Norwich’s feat in beating Arsenal at home and, alongside Sunderland, continue to hover just above the drop zone. In short, there are many a team with more to worry about than Hughton’s Canaries right now.
Ruddy’s 82nd minute exit – to be replaced by Capital One Cup hero Mark Bunn – was the only slight concern on a day in which City once again demonstrated the depth of spirit that still exists within that squad. If it was ever in doubt through that tricky August and September spell, Norwich are bang on it again come the end of November.
Six games without a defeat has long ceased to be a coincidence. Hughton has settled on a shape and a thinking that is working well. Coupled to a largely injury-free run, it has yielded just the sort of consistent run of form that teams need to steer clear of relegation worries.
Hence the alarm at the sight of Ruddy struggling to clear his lines in the game’s latter stages. Given how well the England international had kept Leighton Baines at bay, it caused the odd finger to be crossed as Norwich continued to press for that leveller.
Ruddy may well be deemed a doubt for Wednesday night’s away trip to Southampton – even for precautionary reasons. As Bunn proved against Spurs, he’s no mean deputy.
“He just felt his thigh – that’s why he couldn’t kick a ball – and we just thought that it was the right thing to bring him off,” Hughton told the BBC afterwards.
It wasn’t the return to Goodison that Ruddy would have wanted; he was, however, awarded a warm reception from the home faithful as he headed towards the treatment table.
“I think he was well valued here,” said Hughton, with Everton’s loss being Norwich’s clear gain. “The problem that he had was that he had a very good keeper in front of him [Tim Howard] and I think they’re delighted to see him doing so well.”
Yesterday’s latest away point makes it three in a row on their travels – at Aston Villa, Reading and now Everton, City are proving very hard to beat. Given Everton’s own home form of late, this weekend’s deserved success tops the lot away game-wise.
“We know what we’ve got to do to get points in the Barclays Premier League and they don’t come any tougher than here – against an Everton team that are in a very good run,” said Hughton. “But we’re on a good run ourselves and where I was delighted was that at 1-0 down we always looked a threat.”
Certainly Norwich delivered a much better second-half performance after falling behind to Steven Naismith’s all-too easy opener on 11 minutes.
But, credit Hughton, matters were addressed at the interval; normal order restored.
“I thought we gave the ball away a little too easily in that first-half. And we needed to keep the ball better to get into better areas. And the important thing for us was that we kept going – and if you keep going you always have a chance.”
The goals have hardly been flying in, but its points that win prizes. And Norwich look far less open than they did at the start of the autumn when it could become ‘Help yourself!’ time in the City penalty area.
“It’s been difficult for us to get the goals that we want, but we have become tighter as a team,” said Hughton. “And the pleasing thing is that there are points coming with the performances, but there’s an awful long way still to go…’