In the circumstances there’s little doubt that yesterday’s point was one gained rather than two lost. It’s ironic therefore that despite the stirring performance City still found themselves edging that little bit closer to the danger zone – Wigan’s predictable late-season surge ensuring a nervous finish for those in the bottom half.
Even so, we still have much to be proud of.
The dignity displayed by Chris Hughton and Russell Martin in the direct aftermath of yesterday’s draw at the Stadium of Light was exemplary. Both – courtesy of some finely tuned media training and years of press-handling – handled the naturally leading questions with grace and courtesy, and gave not even a hint of the sense of injustice that surely must have prevailed.
One can only imagine Sir Alex in the same circumstances. The chewing gum wouldn’t have been alone in taking a real pasting once the referee and his assistants had been fixed in his sights. And as for the post-match press conference… there wouldn’t have been one, unless Mike Phelan had been prepared to again act as a second-rate stand-in.
Forgive me for having only the slightest modicum of sympathy for Nani, Sir Alex and co following the Real Madrid ‘incident’, but I’m fairly sure that 99 per cent of football fans outside the red half of Manchester allowed themselves a “now you know how it feels” moment as the debate raged.
And that gut-wrenching feeling that so upset poor Fergie came back to haunt us all yesterday… again.
Yet, on the same day that two players from that little club down the road appeared in court accused of violence related offences, City’s management and players emerge unscathed and reputations intact – enhanced even – following another hard-to-swallow dose of controversy.
No barn-storming on to the pitch either at half-time or the final whistle (or both) to confront the referee, his assistants, opposing players or the opposition’s coaching staff. No thinly veiled “I’d like to say what I really think, but I’ll get in trouble” comments. No sour grape refusals to speak with the media.
Instead, measured, calm and dignified responses to questioning around the three big incidents; the players clearly taking the lead from the gaffer who – despite a quiet, unassuming exterior – clearly has a burning desire to do his very best and what’s right for Norwich City Football Club. Hughton’s clenched fist salute and the reciprocal response from the travelling masses further evidence that the dissenters are now a small, albeit vocal, minority.
For his part in proceedings, Chris Foy now finds himself added to that ever growing list of those deemed to have ‘wronged’ the yellow and green. Step forward Eddie Ilderton, Andy D’Urso, Michael Oliver and Mark Clattenburg. Apologies to those I’ve missed.
Dignity and composure aside, there is also little doubt that City’s backs to the wall heroics were the upshot of problems of their own making.
If Michael Turner’s header had been sufficiently ‘beefy’ to nestle in the grateful arms of Mark Bunn, instead of dropping well short of the penalty area, there would have been no necessity for the City keeper to charge out of his box. While 24 hours later it’s still not conclusive whether the ball struck Bunn on his chest or upper arm, it is clear that the blameless Bunn’s actions gave Foy a decision to make. Whether we like it or not, 37,000 screaming, baying Mackems are hard to ignore when borderline decisions are required.
Similarly, when that ball skipped up off the Stadium of Light pitch and brushed Sebastien Bassong’s left arm referee Foy and his assistant had a decision to make… the screaming Mackems again coming into play. That Steven Fletcher looked suspiciously offside when the through ball was played is a different matter altogether – but a flag from the referee’s assistant would have negated the need for a decision on the Bassong handball.
Either way – as harsh as it is on Turner and Bassong, who both responded to the challenge magnificently – both incidents were avoidable. Take those out of the equation and eleven v eleven City looked a decent bet for only their second away win of the season; Hoolahan – his goal aside – looking far more like the Wes of old, twisting and turning his way around the cumbersome Black Cats rearguard.
Even with ten men there remained a feeling there was still a goal in it for City; a gut feel that a chance would come their way. When it arrived of course Grant Holt’s second touch was heavier than he would have liked and gave Mignolet a chance to smother the chance; the keeper’s non-reaction to Holt’s challenge possibly saving him from a fate worse than yellow.
THE incident of the second half has already been discussed to near death. That Danny Rose was inside the penalty area when he handled Martin’s cross is not in doubt; that referee Foy and his assistant screwed up the decision in front of said 37,000 Mackems is also not in doubt.
So, a point for City when three were there for the taking, but credit all-round for another gutsy effort from the boys in yellow.
Credit too for the way they handled themselves in the most trying of circumstances.
Norwich City may not be the best, the richest or the luckiest, but I can think of few occasions when I’ve been more proud to support them.
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