Thursday, January 31, 2013
Gareth Bale clearly has a penchant for the wide open spaces of Carrow Road, but this was an uplifting night of renewal for Norwich City.
The Canaries fully merited their Premier League point despite the Welshman’s late brilliance – his fourth goal on his last three visits to Norfolk – cancelling out Wes Hoolahan’s first half opener. The application, the attitude, the willingness to stand defiantly alongside their team-mates that had been so sorely absent at Liverpool and against Luton returned in abundance.
Tottenham, for all their high-class pedigree, were second best for long spells until Bale’s fantastic foray from the half-way line rescued Andre Villas-Boas’ stars.
Chris Hughton changed most of the cast list who had under-performed so poorly against the Hatters and the regeneration paid dividends. Mark Bunn’s booming clearance which ricocheted against Jermain Defoe and behind in the opening seconds probably did little to lift the unease around these parts after a run in league and cup that increasingly felt tougher than even those early season struggles that had been punctuated with stirring performances – such as City’s defiance at White Hart Lane in the corresponding fixture.
Alex Tettey left his central station to veer around Benoit Assou-Ekotto before curling a sublimely accurate deep cross Anthony Pilkington nodded back for Robert Snodgrass to hook tamely past Hugo Lloris’ far post.
A positive start was imperative, not merely desirable given the manner the Canaries skulked away from Carrow Road three days earlier. City’s urgency to press was a notable sign of determined intent. Javier Garrido has built a reputation as a cultured attacking full-back, but there was no finesse in his uncompromising challenge that felled Aaron Lennon. Michael Turner cleared the resulting free-kick.
This was not a night for niceties – not with a keeper like Lloris loathe to emerge through crowd scenes to collect. The French international induced mild panic in the Spurs’ ranks when his punch spiralled Snodgrass’ free-kick up rather than out only for Spurs’ captain Michael Dawson to rectify the situation deep in the visiting penalty area.
Grant Holt enticed Bale into a rash hack but Snodgrass’ free-kick was blown out of play in the blustery conditions whipping across Carrow Road. The prevailing current was with the hosts. Bale was suffocated by the close attentions of Tettey and Bradley Johnson, but it was Snodgrass who garnished the power with the panache to lift over Dawson for Holt. The skipper’s ambitious long range strike drifted into the Lower Barclay.
Referee Swarbrick gave Holt’s half-hearted penalty appeals short shrift, following a tangle with Assou-Ekotto, but City were undeniably making life uncomfortable for the high rollers in the opening quarter.
The Capital One Cup tie between the sides in Norfolk had been dominated by Bale. The Welshman’s artistry and invention was on a different plane to those mere mortals in his midst on that evening, but here the talented wide player was well-policed in the early skirmishes by Russell Martin and Snodgrass.
Mousa Dembele, City’s nemesis twice already this campaign, was similarly struggling to extricate himself from Tettey’s clutches. Bale’s desperation for meaningful work brought him inside; one exchange with Lennon threatened danger on the edge of the home penalty area but Bassong’s athleticism proved the perfect antidote.
Lloris pawed Holt’s hanging header around his left-hand post in the 30th minute to voluminous approval from the home fans after Snodgrass’ inswinger merely exposed fresh defensive frailty. Hoolahan slotted Norwich deservedly ahead from seven yards shortly after when Holt and Pilkington re-directed Snodgrass’ initial cross towards the Dubliner.
The celebrations in front of the Barclay told you everything about the intense spotlight this group of players must have been under during recent days.
City’s substitutes, warming up in that corner of the stadium, encroached onto the field of play to join the party. All that pent up frustration released by one swing of the Irishman’s left foot.
Dembele, Tottenham’s wonderfully creative midfield schemer, was forced to hare back towards his own goal line to stop Sebastien Bassong making it two with Snodgrass and Martin the architects of a swift counter.
Defoe has lost none of his predatory instincts and the redundant Mark Bunn was forced to go full length to parry four minutes before the interval. It was a shot across the bows of Hughton’s side after a first half spent on the front foot.
The interval did little to alter Norwich’s flow. Martin advanced to the edge of the Tottenham penalty area before conjuring a low angled cross the late-arriving Hoolahan was a yard or two from despatching.
Bale finally unleashed a hit on that superb left foot but there was no repeat of his Capital One Cup leveller this time with Bunn down sharply to grasp at his near post.
City’s collective appetite to close down appeared limitless. Hoolahan calmly headed back towards Bunn 20 yards out with Assou-Ekotto spotting the unmarked Dembele. Martin then used all his experience to keep Defoe on his weaker left as the lone striker hooked wide.
Turner appreciated the defensive craft as he helped his full-back to his feet to underscore the will to resist in the home ranks.
City were ceding possession and territory to the visitors as the second period elapsed, but Hughton’s men carried a threat on the counter. Holt flicked Pilkington free but after dipping inside Kyle Walker he dragged a right-footer into Lloris’ side netting.
The imperious Turner headed Walker’s dipping free-kick away then positioned himself at the near post to intercept Dembele’s cut back with Spurs visibly growing in belief. Tottenham needed an inspirational spark with time running out and Norwich resolute. Bale, as so often, provided it, gliding past Tettey and bursting inside Garrido to curl beyond Bunn from just inside the Norwich area in the 81st minute. It was the first and only time the gifted Welshman was allowed to roam free and the outcome was inevitable
Villas-Boas went for broke with Gylfi Sigurdsson introduced and only Bunn’s brilliance foiled the Icelandic star in the final minute of normal time.