A stunning free-kick from Robert Snodgrass, a spot-kick from Gary Hooper and a fine, injury-time striker from Leroy Fer lifted the Canaries out of the bottom three this evening courtesy of a huge, 3-1 home win over West Ham United.
With 45 minutes gone, boss Chris Hughton was potentially staring down the barrel of a P45 as West Ham went in a goal to the good; boos ringing around Carrow Road.
But 45 minutes later and it was big, big smiles all round in the directors’ box as the City players lifted their game by at least three gears, pushed up and pushed on and got their due reward with those three, second-half strikes.
The pick of the bunch was Snodgrass’ pearler of a free-kick; City would rattle the crossbar before the end – Fer sending all concerned home on a high with a sharply-taken chance deep into added-on time.
It lifted the Canaries up into 15th spot and pushed the Hammers nearer the bottom three; their control of the game dissolving either side of the break.
What that all means for Hughton’s level of support remains to be seen; the message board games of tennis will, no doubt, break out again this evening.
But, for now, Norwich supporters should share a united sense of relief that the bottom three was someone else’s problem tonight.
Hearts were firmly in mouths within the first ten minutes as the Hammers forced Norwich onto the back foot with John Ruddy forced to stretch and clear a decent chance for Kevin Nolan before rattling the crossbar with a Guy Demel header off a subsequent corner.
Neither of which would have settled the nerves locally as all concerned recognised the importance of this evening’s game. In many a regard.
Hughton had, in fairness, gone onto the offensive team-wise with Johan Elmander being partnered with Gary Hooper; Sebastien Bassong’s recent discomfort being rewarded by a place on the bench and the return of Ryan Bennett.
That in itself told a tale of a skipper who had yet to wholly lead by example this troubled season.
Again, for games of such import, would Grant Holt have found himself dropped to the bench? Such characters are worth their weight in gold; in times of trouble, they carry teams into the relative safety of mid-table. Club skipper Russell Martin took the armband in Bassong’s absence.
Nolan would have Ruddy stretching again in the 26th minute; this time low to his left as the Hammers continued to press more effectively than their hosts.
It would, you sensed, be a long and nervy evening. Not helped by Morrison’s 32nd minute opener as Nolan once more found his way behind the Norwich back line, clipped a little, angled ball back off the byline for the Hammers’ younster to gleefully slide into an empty net from no more than six yards out. He was on his own – six yards out; middle of the goal.
In fairness to the home faithful, they had kept their thoughts to themselves manager-wise. But how long that would last with West Ham comfortably in command and a goal to the good to boot was another matter. Player-wise, the big characters would stand up – the weaker would disappear.
The boos rang out at half-time; in fairness, they had been given precious little to cheer.
Hope sprang again nine minutes after the interval as Hooper persuaded Hammers keeper Jussi Jääskeläinen to concede a penalty. Up stood the former Celtic hitman and from 12-yards out – high and handsome – he opened his account in the English Premier League.
If Miss Fortune was going to smile on the hard-pressed Hughton, she could have done with allowing Jonny Howson’s 71st minute effort dip just that couple of inches more rather than slapping square against the bar.
In the event, however, she was just teasing. A minute later and Snodgrass was picking something out of the very top drawer free-kick wise as he left Jääskeläinen rooted with a perfect, sweeping free-kick inside the keeper’s left upright.
Norwich were ahead – something that looked so unlikely on the back of that lame opening half. Someone must have said something at the interval as the big players stepped up to the breach and answered their manager’s call.
With five minutes remaining Snodgrass could have put the game and the three priceless points beyond West Ham’s reach only to shank his ten-yard effort high and less than handsome.
But at least the ball was being kept at pitch-length from Ruddy’s goal as the Canaries looked to close out a huge, home win.
Whether or not it would nip the endless Hughton debate in the bud is, of course, doubtful.
The seam of managerial misgivings runs all too deep, one senses. But the simple, psychological lift that comes from being out of the bottom three can do wonders.
Equally, the players response to being backs firmly against the wall at the break suggests a dressing room that still believes.
As a Hughton outer, I’m very happy we won today. Never want to see the team lose. I also think based solely on the second half, I’d give CH another few weeks.
Not because I think he’s done anything particularly worthy of keeping him, just look at how dreadful we were in the first half. Appalling. But to be rid of him now would do more harm than good. If our players return to the postures they had in the first half, then it would be time.
Spurs fan here.
Fantastic fight back and glad you one.
What a player that Snodgrass is, what an engine the man has, brilliant game today.
Hope you do well in the league, keep the faith and get behind your team as you did in the 2nd half.
My faith in Hughton has been sorely tested recently, mainly due to some pretty one dimensional tactics and failure to get the best out of most expensively assembled team in the history of the club. Bassong was clearly out of sorts and rightly sidelined. Plus, the body language of Pilkington has also worried me at times and the analysis of him on MOTD was spot on. He needs to be made to watch it.
Dave Backham says
We need to recognise that in the Premier League points are very hard to come by unless you have £millions and can buy a squad full of match winners. After years of continually receiving more money than anyone else the big clubs are really starting to smash the smaller teams. 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 or even 8-0 will become more common score-lines. Chelsea v Aston Villa (8-0 anyone?).
Otherwise for the lesser teams it’s very close this year – every minute of every game counts – a mistake can cost you three points in the blink of an eye. Everyone in the mid-to-lower reaches of the division looks to defend first and play on the counter-attack – Blackpool’s recklessness is a lesson teams have learned not to copy.
Big Sam yesterday played 4-6-0 in a ‘first do not lose’ mentality geared around controlling the midfield and retaining possession. How Norwich struggled in that first half. The commentators said the difference in the second half was that Norwich pressed more in midfield – their 4 being required to do the work of the opponent’s 6 (then 5 after Carlton Cole came on). So yesterday’s win was the result of real hard work and determination and the players should be well commended for their efforts.
Don’t blame Hughton for putting 5 in midfield if he goes back to 4-1-4-1 (4-3-3)?? at Newcastle. You have to win the ball before you can do anything with it and these days the battle is won and lost in midfield – games can be strangled to death with 5 v 5 in the middle of the park.
Re-read Ed’s pieces from August and October
Playing two strikers (Elmander and Hooper) may be needed for a team that struggles to score goals but that then leaves us a man short in midfield and possibly a lack of a football for them to make use of. It helps when our fullbacks get involved – but it also leaves us vulnerable to the counter-attack if we push too many men forward. Balance (between attack and defence) and experience (wise heads) must prevail over being gung-ho no matter how much we as fans want the team to go forward.
Yesterday’s effort was fantastic – as the West Ham fan on Sky Sports said – ‘Norwich wanted it more’ and long may that be the case. Players , fans, board and manager want it so let’s all stick together and support whatever tactical approach CH adopts in pursuit of enough points to stay up. After all is said and done I will be more than happy with 17th or better at the end of this season.
I trust however that we will over the course of the season be better than Fulham, Cardiff, Hull, Crystal Palace, Sunderland Stoke, Aston Villa and West Ham. There are at least these 8 other teams we’re battling with on a reasonably equal footing and which I feel confident that we have the measure of.
Keith B says
3 points at last, long overdue and very welcome. But just as one 7-0 thrashing didn’t persuade me we are doomed if CH is in charge, nor does a 45-minute spell against a team who have also been struggling to score reassure me that all is well after all.
That will only happen when we start scoring a few more goals from open play through our own creativity. In truth our first two goals were largely “created” by clumsy, and unnecessary, fouls.
What we are still not doing is creating our own chances between penalty spot and six-yard box, exactly the sort of goal the Hammers scored in fact.
Even Fer’s goal was essentially an individual effort, and whilst of course they all count sooner or later we have to start getting Hooper and RvW in on goal much more than we have. Until we do that we are unlikely to be able to take a shot at the very big boys, which we need to be able to do.
Consider this, Villa have beaten Arsenal, Cardiff and Sunderland beat Man C, WBA beat MU and were robbed against Chelsea, and West Ham and Newcastle both won at Spurs. By contrast we have barely looked like troubling any of the established top teams we have faced – only against Chelsea did we really give a credible account of ourselves. That does not auger well for the run in.
I agree there are enough other weak teams to keep us up, but I doubt if any of us will have long nails come mid-May.