A horror moment from City keeper John Ruddy and a moment of Brazilian inspiration from Premier League new-boy Willian settled this afternoon’s thrilling Carrow Road encounter with high-flying and big-spending Chelsea.
Anthony Pilkington’s second-half leveller had – rightly – pulled the hosts level after Oscar’s fourth minute opener.
But with a precious and prized point within their grasp, a regulation diagonal ball across the park first found Alexander Tettey dropping the ball into the path of Eden Hazard whose low drive somehow squeezed beneath the City No1 and rolled gently over the line.
Though Ruddy could be barely be blamed for the killer third that Willian unleashed into the top corner from nowhere – and all on his Premier League debut – given the current debate surrounding Joe Hart and his fitness for that England No1 role, so the Canary keeper could have so done with a big performance against the Blues this weekend.
Instead the footballing fates decided to throw a right spanner in his individual works as he twice missed out on challenges with Demba Ba before the break, before finding himself centre stage for all the wrong reasons as Hazard’s comfortable low drive headed goalward.
Having seen his side perform so creditably for the middle hour of the contest, it was rough justice on both City and manager Chris Hughton, as the Canaries found themselves locked just above that danger zone with a clutch of tricky games fast hoving into view – led by a trip to the Emirates next.
Hughton’s decision to stick with the industry and invention that the midfield combination of Alexander Tettey, Leroy Fer and Jonny Howson gave him at Stoke last weekend looked the right one on paper; in practice it took Chelsea less than four minutes to find enough space to open the scoring.
It was all too easy as Ba dropped the ball back into the path of Oscar who didn’t even have to break either stride or seat to fire low and true beyond Ruddy from some 22-yards distant.
It was just the start Norwich didn’t need; tackling the West London giants was always going to be a tough test of their autumn resolve. To concede so early merely made that challenge doubly difficult for the home side – forced now to open up their game that much more in search of a leveller.
The invitation would, therefore, be laid at Chelsea’s door to take further advantage of their hosts.
Which they almost did in the 14th minute as Ba found himself free again in that inside-left channel; his low dig towards the far post needed Ruddy to palm just wide.
The England hopeful would find himself back in close combat with Ba five minutes later and would need skipper Sebastien Bassong to ride to his rescue with a timely clearance as the City No1 came out second best on the edge of his penalty area.
City did at least stretch Petr Cech in the 23rd minute when Robert Snodgrass contrived to deliver a near-post opportunity for the excellent Howson which the Chelsea keeper smothered sharply. It offered a glimmer of hope that opportunities would arrive; but it was their successful execution that was the key. They wouldn’t come that often.
Snodgrass swept a deep cross in five minutes before the break that eventually found Tettey smashing wide from 25-yards as Norwich continued to press, but it was a rare moment of a ruffled feather for the Londoners. They remained well in control of proceedings as the break beckoned.
And continued to be after the interval. At least initially.
Norwich were doing their bit; trying their best. But Chelsea are where they are for a reason as John Terry proved just before the hour mark with a perfectly-timed intervention to keep the ball away from a lurking Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
It lifted the home support as they kept their fingers firmly crossed that a way could be found beyond Terry, Cech and Co. The odds, however, remained stacked against them.
Until, that is the 68th minute when events took a rather curious – and welcome – turn.
A fabulous deep cross from Martin Olsson was headed back across the face of the goal and there was Pilkington, squeezing in behind David Luiz, to nod a six-yard header through a horribly-exposed Cech.
It was, in fairness, due reward for effort and enthusiasm alone. And van Wolfswinkel deserved every credit for his big assist.
It was, though, the Dutchman’s last moment of note as Hughton threw Gary Hooper into the fray and he wasted little time in taking on Luiz. The former Celtic hitman looks hungry for the fray now that his summer shin issues are behind him.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Snodgrass would make way for Nathan Redmond as Hughton hoped to make better use of the spaces now opening up in the Chelsea half. Within a minute, the teenager had Cech hurriedly parrying his drive away.
Norwich were proving very good value for the draw as Redmond, in particular, had the visitors on the back foot.
Right up until the moment disaster struck. And all from a Norwich corner, too.
From one end of the pitch to the other in a blink of an eye. And there was the ball rolling oh-so gently over the line as Ruddy desperately tried to claw it out to safety.
Alas, he was too late. The game, and that potential point, was gone.