Two, quality strikes from England World Cup hopeful Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas either side of the break set Everton on their way to an all-too expected, 2-0 success at Goodison Park this afternoon as the Canaries continued to flirt alarmingly with a return to the bottom three.
Sunderland’s thumping win at Fulham will have done the Canaries a few favours; it was West Ham’s big win at Cardiff City that the hard-pressed Chris Hughton could have done without – he would have preferred the managerial heat to be kept on Sam Allardyce.
Instead the Norfolk side found themselves stuck fast just two points above the drop zone; just four points now separating the bottom seven clubs. No-one was lost and adrift. Premier League status was anyone’s to lose.
With two home games next on the agenda – to Hull City and Newcastle United – Norwich’s biggest challenge remained the most fundamental: scoring goals.
For today’s open and engaging contest offered the visitors chances. Once again, none were taken.
And with the January transfer window now open for business and with the board showing little immediate inclination to swap managers mid-season, that is where the attention will now have to focus – finding someone to find the net on a more consistent basis.
Which will cost serious cash. Wherein lies the next question for the board.
For those that liked their conspiracy theories, the sight of Villa target Wes Hoolahan taking his place on the Canary bench would have come as something of a blow; the 31-year-old Dubliner had clearly not yet played his last game for the club – or rather should the occasion demand later in the contest.
It didn’t. But he was still to be seen in club colours.
Otherwise, there was a rare start for Javier Garrido in front of Martin Olsson with Leroy Fer returning after his recent, one-match ban.
Of equal significance was the fact that Hughton went into battle with two out-and-out strikers paired together in the shape of Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel – the latter’s one and only goal of the season came, of course, against Everton in the opening game of the campaign.
A repeat this weekend would be sorely welcomed by all of a Norwich hue.
City did have one, small break of luck before kick-off with the news that Everton’s latest boy wonder Ross Barkley was missing with a toe injury; Leighton Baines did, however, return.
Bradley Johnson had an early, quarter-chance before the home side settled into their stride and produced a big chance for Romelu Lukaku at the far post in the 12th minute as Mirallas opened Norwich up with a wonderful deep and inviting cross from the left.
It was a timely reminder as to why Everton were in sight of grabbing fourth place should they win today, though in fairness City didn’t look wholly over-awed as Hooper found himself free to test Tim Howard – one the Everton keeper passed with all-too much ease.
Come the 23rd minute and the Canaries would have greater cause to regret that missed opportunity as Barry dug out a stunner in front of the watching England boss Roy Hodgson to drive Everton into the lead. It was one of those out of the very top drawer. That said, you stand off and give players of that calibre an invite to give it a go from 30-odd yards and they can hurt you.
Van Wolfswinkel produced a decent curling effort that Howard had to hurry to his left to save as Norwich sought to stay on their feet. For Barry had them rocking back on their heels. A second goal before the break would kill the contest.
In the event, as much as Everton pushed forward with regular menace Norwich continued to offer their own threat – in particular in the dying moments of the first period when Hooper was again denied by Howard as van Wolfswinkel and Fer both likewise threatened.
It was all entertaining stuff for those that had made the long haul north. But – as ever – goals win games. Barry had delivered a peach that City had yet to match.
The second period found the home side very much on the ascendancy as Norwich struggled to clear their lines and, indeed, find themselves with any time on the ball.
Though the bottom three wouldn’t be their’s tonight, that whole pack at the foot of the Premier League table was closing up rapidly and it promised to be a long and fraught spring for all concerned.
Particularly when Everton proceeded to take full command of the contest via another perfect strike – this time a Mirallas free-kick that swirled up and over the Norwich wall and inside John Ruddy’s right upright. The wall had held firm, the keeper had been in a half-decent position – it was simple quality that did for them again.
Ryan Bennett’s initial foul on a marauding Baines was where it all went wrong and with 30 minutes to go, City had their hands full.
Nathan Redmond’s arrival for Garrido did find the 19-year-old testing Howard; once again, Norwich crearted without converting. The teenager would also have claimed the assist for a Snodgrass header – had the frame of the goal not denied the Scot in the 79th minute.
Norwich were trying. But try as well as they might, they couldn’t find the goals that Everton could.
At the back, Steven Whittaker pulled off an exemplary tackle to thwart David McCarthy as the two teams continued to swap chances until the final whistle.
Van Wolfswinkel’s drought continued as he made way late on for Josh Murphy. Once again the 18-year-old was making an appearance with the horse having long bolted; once again Norwich’s £8 million man had drawn a blank in front of goal.
Which tells its own story.
while everyone buries their head in the sand we are sleep walking into relegation. it is inevitable when you cannot score. carrow road is most definately not a fortress and can no longer be relied upon to offset the pathetic away form. so we need yet another “reaction” but maybe this time it will be the board and not the over paid and over hyped players and management.
james d says
It was more a case of strikers not taking chances than none being created which is a big positive. To take 21 league games to get hooper and RVW playing together highlights the issues injuries have caused.
In reality this was a game we never expected anything from. If hooper and RVW can get get another game together at Fulham they may just be ready as a partnership for the hull match.
6 points seperate the bottom 11. This will be a long season for everyone.
Jon B says
Just can’t understand why Olsson was playing behind Garrido when the former is much more effective bombing forward. Good that we played two up top but we must stick with the same pairing for a while.
Dave B says
70 mins of rubbish followed by 20 mins of entertaining, attacking football when it was too late.
We have the players that can do it, but we don’t have the team set up correctly and we don’t have the belief.
I just see no evidence that Hughton is the future of NCFC.
Liked the team he put out today but agree that Garrido should be at left back with Olssen further up. If today was about getting our forward pairing ready for the next few (winnable) games, then that can only be a good thing. Carrow Road needs some atmosphere next week. Fingers crossed.
Russell S. says
2-0 defeat (x2 25 yard shots at that) away to a team in 4th who have lost twice all season – it’s all about context.
I didn’t see too much wrong with us apart from that missing x-factor up front. Hooper had a great chance 1st half but his 1st touch was poor.
Dave B(4): you finish every comment with the same sentence – try and be a little more imaginative.
Dave B says
@ Russell S
If we’re looking at past quotes, after the Liverpool game you said….
“The next 4 games are a real test of where CH’s side is at – minimum of 8 points, otherwise…”
We got 5. I may be negative, repetitive, and set in my ways, but at least I’m consistent!
Russell S. says
Dave B – all 4 of those things you most certainly are! I’ve said nothing that’s inconsistent with the comment you dug up from a few weeks back.
You have misunderstood my… at the end. You presume it means “sack Hughton”, whereas I meant it will make things tough but we’ve got to keep battling (which we are) and Hughton will keep us up (which he will) otherwise…
We all want to see us playing better but now its results against those around us that are all that matters – we were never going to get anything at Everton the form they are in. Hull is a pivotal game – we can’t afford another Boxing Day result.
Poyet and Pulis have made their sides tougher but they are still bottom 3 and OGS (massively overpromoted to the PL) has been found out already. Back the boss.
Glen Smith says
“Ryan Bennett’s initial foul on a marauding Baines was where it all went wrong and with 30 minutes to go, City had their hands full.”
Disagree, yet again we gave the ball away softly in midfield allowing an opposition player to run 30 yards unchallenged. When they get to the edge of the box at pace central defenders are in a no win situation.