A 90th minute strike from Leroy Fer sealed a huge away win at The Hawthorns this afternoon as Chris Hughton’s men for once made the very most of their luck to dig out a crucial 2-0 success.
Gary Hooper’s unexpected opener after just 13 minutes gave the long-suffering City away following something to celebrate after various one-sided shows on their travels.
Whilst West Brom were notably poor before the break, after it they finally stepped up a gear or two and laid siege to the Canaries goal and could have had a penalty shortly after the restart as Martin Olsson threw his upper body – and arm – into a desperate goal-line clearance.
But – as has been said of Norwich all-too often – in the end, it is up to the attacking side to make the most of their chances and with substitute Shane Long, in particular, proving more wasteful than most, so it was left to Dutch World Cup hopeful Fer to again demonstrate his late worth with a powerful run and low drive to seal the contest in the final minute of normal time.
With West Ham suffering a similar fate at Anfield and Cardiff falling foul of a revitalised Palace, so boss Hughton can enjoy a weekend ever more out of the managerial firing line – the Canaries rising to the dizzying heights of 14th on the back of their second away success of the season.
Four points clear of the drop zone, a clean sheet and a clutch of teams looking in more miserable shape than them. Life has been a lot worse this autumn.
Anyone outside the Canary Nation might equally be forgiven for wondering what all the managerial fuss was about.
Hughton’s decision to throw two up top in his search for a ‘reaction’ to the mid-week, 5-1 mauling on Merseyside was rewarded within the first 13 minutes as Hooper again demonstrated his ability to finish clinically – if given the chance. Or, indeed, a start.
On this occasion it was Fer with the assist as the £6 million man found the bottom corner from outside the box with unerring simplicity and no small measure of quality to give the Canaries something of an unexpected lead.
For those of a more questioning mind, it might prompt a query as to why Johan Elmander and not Hooper was give the start at Anfield. But whatever the thinking in mid-week, come the weekend and Hooper’s recall alongside Elmander at the expense of Wes Hoolahan did the job.
The Dubliner was back on the bench this afternoon where he was joined by both Russell Martin and Ryan Bennett as Hughton shook things up at the back with Steven Whittaker and Michael Turner the ones to benefit.
Noses in front, the next question would be whether the new-look back four could keep Albion at bay until at least the break – by when The Hawthorns’ faithful might be on the turn. This fixture they would have long had down as one of their more comfortable home wins.
Hooper’s early strike was not in their script. At all.
Victor Anichebe, Youssuf Mulumbu and Stéphane Sessegnon would all kind of threaten; but it was very much a ‘kind of…’ response. Norwich were not clinging onto their early advantage with Nathan Redmond half testing Boaz Myhill via a 27th minute free-kick as the visitors continued to justify their early advantage.
Whether they had a second strike in them to all-but kill the game – or whether they would now sit back and try and see out a narrow win would be one for Hughton and his coaching team to decide on at the interval. Redmond, in particular, was offering a regular and willing outlet away in front of Whittaker.
Indeed, come that half-time whistle and it was a chorus of boos from the home fans that greeted the players’ exit – music to the ears of Hughton and Co.
Whether their hosts could play as poorly after the interval as they had before it would be a key question for the next 45 minutes to answer. But it was a listless, half-hearted effort on the whole – and, to their credit, Norwich had taken full advantage.
Baggies boss Steve Clarke had clearly seen something similar as he made a double substituion at the break – Long replacing Liam Ridgewell, Saido Berahino on for Morgan Amalfitano.
It certainly sparked some life into the hosts and the had a huge penalty appeal waved away in the 48th minute as Olsson spread himself in front of Sessegnon at the far post; a combination of upper chest and upper right arm pushing the ball wide. Not enough to impress referee Mark Clattenburg – and City’s luck for once held.
Sessegnon was eyeball to eyeball again with Canary keeper John Ruddy in the 52nd minute as Bradley Johnson’s touch-cum-tackle wholly wrong-footed Turner. Much to Norwich’s relief, Sessegnon rolled the ball a foot wide of Ruddy’s left upright and all with the width of the goal to aim at.
A fabulous ball from Jonny Howson freed Redmond on the hour mark. He darted inside his defender, hit the by-line at pace only for his sharp pull-back to angle just behind the arriving Elmander.
Olsson gave Sessegnon another gilt-edged chance in the 63rd minute with a horror clearance through his own six-yard box that forced Ruddy to save with his feet as the Baggies continued to improve on their limp first-half display.
Long had an even better opportunity moments later as Norwich’s inability to clear their lines with any conviction almost cost them dear; the one-time Reading star mis-cueing his first-time volley as the ball dropped over his left shoulder. The result was to roll the ball gently back into Ruddy’s waiting arms.
City needed to give their hosts more to think about – let young Josh Murphy head downfield with the ball at his feet, for example. Anything to push the play up from the edge of their penalty area as Albion continued to drive on for the equaliser.
Which duly happened in the 75th minute as Elmander made way for the 18-year-old – for once given a Premier League run-out with his employers a goal to the good as opposed to four goals adrift. His first touch was a late one on Billy Jones for which he got an early Christmas card.
As the clocked ticked down, City were edging ever closer to a huge away success. But, as ever, they were finding themselves sat ever deeper on the very edge of their own penalty area. Long sent a stooping header towards the inside of Ruddy’s right upright in the game’s dying moments only for the City No1 to pull out a fine, scrambling save.
It was the last real chance of a Baggies point as Redmond set a marauding Fer free through the inside left channel.
The rest was history as a sucker and a punch floored the home side and left the Canaries heading north for Christmas.