Norwich City’s best efforts to haul themselves out of the bottom three ended in deep frustration at Carrow Road this afternoon as Canary old-boy David Marshall stood firm from first minute to last and gave Cardiff a point from a 0-0 draw.
Marshall was beaten once as – deep into stoppage time – Leroy Fer pushed the ball beyond him after the ball was first hit out to allow treatment to Alexander Tettey in the usual expectation of the ball being then returned from the throw-in. It wasn’t.
Briefly, it looked as if the goal had stood as furious protests erupted from the Cardiff players; ungentlemanly conduct? In the end, however, referee Mike Jones opted to deny the goal and order the throw-in to be retaken – Norwich’s celebrations cut suddenly short.
It would have been a hugely controversial way to prise three, priceless points out of the team sat just one place above them in the table this morning.
The fact that Norwich were left to settle for just the one – after dominating both the chances and the possession for huge swathes of the game – will merely fuel certain, frustrated flames.
Marshall’s man-of-the-match performance was just one of those; that said, City still need to find that extra bit of quality in the final third to force the ball over the line and take full advantage of such home ties.
For that’s where the problems still lie. Converting chances at the very highest level on a regular enough basis to ensure comfort, let alone survival.
With Gary Hooper preferred to a fit-again Ricky van Wolfswinkel as under-fire boss Chris Hughton looked for that magic – and missing – alchemy in front of goal, the home side had to endure one, heart-in-mouth moment in the 13th minute when a lurking Frazier Campbell squeezed in ahead of an unsure John Ruddy and but for any sort of touch could have left the Canary No1 stranded.
Otherwise, it was all a bit nervy with both teams knowing just how much would ride on the outcome of this afternoon’s contest. These were the kind of games upon which seasons were decided.
Norwich’s best moment of the early exchanges arrived in the 23rd minute when Fer led the charge downfield; eventually feeding the over-lapping Martin Olsson. His cross-cum-shot was flapped out unconvincingly by Marshall only for a waiting Robert Snodgrass to snatch at his shot.
Three minutes later and it was Ruddy making an early claim to the Sunday headlines with a fabulous, instinctive one-handed save to somehow flick Jordon Mutch’s left-footed effort over the bar after Campbell had squezed in behind the City back four.
The game was opening up at either end as the initial reserve disappeared.
Jonny Howson would see Marshall palm one wide in front of his right upright; Peter Whittingham would hook off the goal-line from a Fer volley as Norwich pushed hard for the game’s opening goal. Anthony Pilkington would sweep an ambitious curler over from some 30-yards distant.
Hooper would try something similar six minutes before the break; an instinctive up-and-over that Marshall had to hurry to save. It was all bright, entertaining stuff – albeit minus the opening goal that the home faithful so yearned for.
Howson came even closer in the 42nd minute with a 25-yard swerving effort that Marshall again had to palm wide. Norwich were certainly being granted enough space in midfield to test the Cardiff keeper; as yet they had still to find a way beyond the one-time Canary No1. A post would ride to his rescue before the break as the ball pinged this way and that in his six-yard box.
Hooper would have another dig; Russell Martin would head over before the break. The goal Norwich so desperately needed refused to come.
The second period started in much the same vein; different chances, different characters but the result was stubbornly the same – a ball pinging wide or falling onto the roof of the net; Marshall in the way.
Hour gone and the time for a change was surely getting nigh – was it time to unleash Master Redmond? Or give Ricky van Wolfswinkel another chance to prove his point, by grabbing three?
Pilkington would go close as the home punters started to shift uneasily in their seats. In days gone by there would be a goal in the game; at the wrong end, invariably.
With 20 minutes left, the double change came – Redmond arrived for Pilkington, but it was Johan Elmander who replaced Hooper, not van Wolfswinkel. It took Redmond less than a minute to test Marshall; high and a bit too hopeful to the keeper’s right. Two minutes later and he would be no more than a foot too high as the teenager proved again that he knew – roughly – where the goal was.
Till the end, City would huff and puff and drive wide or over; belief that a goal was ever going to come disappearing with every passing minute.
They needed a hero; one, last-gasp moment to turn one, frustrating point into three.
Neither the hero nor the goal would emerge; just two villains of the piece…