A stunning strike from Gary Hooper deep into first-half stoppage time gave the Canaries a rightful share of the spoils at home to Swansea City this afternoon as Norwich continued to haul themselves away from the danger zone.
The 1-1 final score was enough to keep Norwich in 14th – now five points clear of the bottom three.
More importantly there were more clubs with more to worry about; finding a new manager in the case of West Bromwich Albion. City’s 2-0 success at The Hawthorns last weekend looks ever more important; four points from their last two outings isn’t to be sniffed at.
Today’s performance wasn’t without some familiar failings.
Swansea’s opening goal was right out of the bottom drawer in terms of Norwich defending, whilst Hooper apart the Canaries still looking woefully short of a finish up front. Both Johan Elmander and Luciano Becchio could do with a goal; albeit if the former did his bit assist-wise for Hooper’s latest strike.
It was, in fairness, worth a sizeable chunk of his summer transfer fee; the ball whipping in from some 30-yards distant as Hooper continued to find both his feet and his range in the top flight of English football.
Given the opportunity that today’s home clash with Swansea offered in terms of Premier League placing – and against what most would consider would be a ‘bread and butter’ opponent – it was little surprise to find Hughton throwing the two up front with Elmander once again offering the physical foil to the in-form Hooper. See the goal.
Though Hughton had earmarked this weekend as the one for a return to duty of record strike signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the Dutchman failed to make the bench as his troubles and strifes this autumn continued. Instead Becchio continued to enjoy life in the manager’s thoughts, while young Josh Murphy also patiently awaited for his chance to shine on home turf.
Given events of the 13th minute, that chance might need to come before the game was out as the visitors took a stupidly easy lead.
Ashley Williams’ simple punt down the middle of the park should have been meat and drink for skipper Sebastien Bassong as he stood a good head taller than Nathan Dyer. Instead, the Swans striker got his head to the ball first, nodded it on and into the City box before lifting it gently over a stranded John Ruddy left on his lonesome on the penalty spot.
As simple and as soft as they get.
Norwich responded of a fashion, but as ever against the Swans it was always going to be a game of patience as the visitors kept possession of the ball for long periods; willing the Canaries on in terms of closing them down and forcing a hurried and mis-placed pass. But as the goal had proved, close down too far up the field and you can leave the back door banging wide open – inviting one, simple telling pass for a Dyer or a Michu to latch onto.
None of which will have added to the festive spirits amongst the home faithful; they would want to see more by way of both possession and penetration as the first-half drifted tamely on. Not for the first time it was Nathan Redmond offering the threat. He, at least, has been a big hit this autumn. And will only improve given his still-tender years.
Hooper, too, impressed – he was tenacious enough in the 36th minute to rob Williams in the near corner of the Swans box; forced to angle back out as keeper and fellow defenders close, the final shot blazed wide and over. But it was better.
Someone had, finally, knocked Swansea off possession.
Leroy Fer would flick out a foot in the midst of a 45th minute goal-mouth scramble to sell the ball floating goalward – this time Williams reacted rather better to the threat and headed off the goal-line. Norwich had grown back into the game, but chances were still all-too far and few between. Until Hooper struck.
Six minutes of stoppage time following an injury to goal-scorer Dyer looked to be going nowhere until Elmander’s chest down off a Steven Whittaker punt forward found the ex-Celtic striker some 30-yards distant. One touch to tee up, another to send a magnificent, dipping drive away and beyond a startled Michel Vorm for his fourth goal in six Premier League outings. The Barclay had themselves a new hero.
To add to that of Master Redmond. He again was prominent after the break, fizzing the ball through the Swans box in the 70th minute only for it to elude a fast-arriving Elmander. The latter could certainly do with bagging himself a late winner.
Patience locally was wearing thin goals-wise. Two minutes earlier and Michael Turner had almost done the job – slapping the ball against the Swansea bar as he rose highest to head.
Hooper came close in the 76th minute, forcing Vorm into a fine, one-handed save to his left after a touch from Fer opened up the chance some ten yards out. But credit Canaries; they were on the front foot.
Young Murphy was given a late run-out; this time to no avail. Swansea hung on. City had to settle for a point.