Two minutes of sloppy, second-half madness cost the Canaries so, so dear in South Wales this afternoon as the Bluebirds reaped the rewards for their transfer window spending spree with a 2-1 win over Chris Hughton’s goal-shy City.
Fabio, Kenwyne Jones and Wilfried Zaha would all arrive at the Cardiff City Stadium and it was the latter two – in the company of ex-Canary star Craig Bellamy – who turned the contest on its head either side of the 50th minute mark after Robert Snodgrass’ fifth minute opener threatened to deliver one of the weekend’s larger shocks.
To their credit, Norwich recovered both their poise and their better possession thereafter, but the damage had been done.
Snodgrass would slap a post before the end; Bellamy would head off his own goal-line as the Canaries battered their hosts 24-13 shots-wise; 13-7 in corners.
None of which mattered. Goals win games. Snodgrass, Bradley Johnson, Nathan Redmond and Sebastien Bassong came closest to adding that second – a roster of names that tells its own story.
Victory and Norwich would have kept Cardiff pinned to the foot of the table; defeat and City are back hovering two points above the drop zone – heading south as others head north. And with the transfer window now slammed firmly shut.
For the long haul west, Hughton rang the changes from the sapping mid-week draw with Newcastle United with a suitably sapped Leroy Fer handed a respite on the bench where he was joined by Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Anthony Pilkington.
In the case of Fer, the Dutch Under-21 international has toiled hard in the heart of that City midfield – often finding himself both out-numbered and out-passed against his Premier League peers.
For van Wolfswinkel, it is both form and fortune that has deserted the club’s record summer signing; he departed early in the 0-0 draw with the Magpies after another unconvincing display. Today’s demotion to the bench will merely add to the question marks that have dogged his first full campaign in Canary colours. Pilkington merely looked like a player fresh back from autumn injury.
Jonás Gutiérrez did return after being ineligible for the United clash; the on-loan Newcastle midfielder and 33-year-old Fenerbahce centre-half Joseph Yobo proving to be Norwich’s lot transfer window-wise.
Not that the former’s arrival wasn’t unwelcome. Johnson’s dice with a three-match ban would have left Gutiérrez very much centre stage. As it was, the rescinded red card found Johnson with an older head at his side in the midst of Bluebirds battle – as well as the fresher legs of Alexander Tettey. Johan Elmander was tasked to give Gary Hooper space up top.
For Cardiff, Solskjaer went into battle with two of his new arrivals in from the start; the third sat and waited for his moment off the bench. The hope being, of course, that the flash of the Vincent Tan cheque book would breathe fresh life into their survival plans.
If that was the plan, it initially lasted little more than five minutes before Snodgrass threw a large spanner into the South Wales works with the game’s opening goal; the 26-year-old Scottish international winger finding the bottom corner off an assist by Russell Martin for his fourth strike of the season.
It was a timely riposte from Snodgrass after carrying some of the can for Tuesday night’s near-chanceless attacking efforts against Newcastle. He has a heart – and is one of life’s triers. And for that he was rightly rewarded this afternoon.
It was also due reward for the travelling Canary faithful; rarely – if ever – granted the sight of an away-day opener from their visiting stars. The question now was whether 85 minutes of defensive slog could yield all three points. No, in short.
Yellow cards for Elmander, Tettey and Ryan Bennett witnessed a City side digging in for a long afternoon in the trenches after Snodgrass’ early strike. In fairness, they made it to the break. Just.
More than can be said for Bluebirds striker Peter Whittingham as Solskjaer’s managerial honeymoon threatened to come to an abrupt end.
Norwich City (h) would have been one of their home bankers. And on a day when both Sunderland and West Ham had already won, this was not one to lose.
In the six minutes that followed the break, however, Solskjaer’s wheeling and dealing in the transfer window paid rich, rich dividends as Zaha first tucked Bellamy in for a soft leveller – all set in motion by Hooper gifting away possession – before Jones pounced on an ill-cleared corner. And within the space of two, devastating minutes, Cardiff had turned the game on its head.
David Marshall would push a decent strike from Johnson against the frame of his goal as Norwich responded.
With 15 minutes left and the game still out of his hands, Hughton made a triple substitution as Fer, van Wolfswinkel and Redmond arrived en masse. Within a minute Snodgrass had teed up van Wolfswinkel – albeit at hip height. His touch and technique did nothing to suggest that his confidence was on the up.
Redmond offered the better threat; converting sharply only for the linesman’s flag to intervene as Norwich continued to press. Ten minutes from time and it was the two Canary old boys denying their former employers – Marshall clawing the ball off the line from Redmond, before Bellamy would head clear as Bassong’s effort looped towards the far post.
Spirits weren’t lacking. Goals were.