Monday, January 14, 2013
Just a few minutes into the second half at Carrow Road, we were reliably informed across the public address system that “Mr Carrow has left the City Stand”.
Perhaps he had a train to catch, or merely an urgent appointment at the Royal Doulton, but it may be that he already knew what the rest of us suspected – he was not going to see any goals in what remained of the afternoon.
Roughly 40 minutes after the message – always guaranteed a big cheer – was broadcast to another near full house, the Norwich City and Newcastle United players trooped off with what were probably mixed feelings.
The Canaries had brought a halt to their run of four successive Premier League defeats and kept their first clean sheet in the league since beating Manchester United in November, yet one could not help feel that taking only one point against a team in a sustained slump was a missed opportunity.
The Magpies, beaten in nine of their previous 11 league games, had also stopped the rot by managing a rare shut-out but had slipped one place further in the table to 16th thanks to Southampton’s win at Aston Villa.
But the truth was that neither side could really complain about the outcome.
If there was going to be a winner, it was certainly more likely to be City, but for all their territorial advantage they created few clear scoring opportunities and there were too many careless dead-ball kicks and final passes.
And Newcastle, trying – and failing – to shake off the loss of star striker Demba Ba to Chelsea, gave home ’keeper Mark Bunn his least testing afternoon since he took over the gloves from England cap John Ruddy. As the old phrase goes, they were lucky to get nil.
City boss Chris Hughton can take comfort from a solid defensive display and a seven-point cushion over the bottom three places, but will be doubly keen to try to add a bit of firepower to his squad over the next 2½ weeks to give them the best chance of cashing in on their remaining home fixtures against struggling sides – their most likely route to that safety target of about 40 points.
In a quiet first half, on and off the field, real chances were at a premium and though winger Anthony Pilkington gave France international Mathieu Debuchy an uncomfortable welcome to English football, striker Simeon Jackson had little chance of capitalising on his string of crosses against two formidable centre-halves.
Newcastle’s best effort of the half, in fact in the entire match, came when Vurnon Anita teed up Gabriel Obertan for a smart snapshot that Bunn had to palm away.
City had one real opportunity before the break when Wes Hoolahan burst clear in a three-against-two break and played a one-two with Jackson but as he took the return pass in the six-yard box, he waited for the ball to run on to his left foot and was swiftly foiled by James Perch. Cue groans all round.
Next, a downward header by Robert Snodgrass from a Hoolahan cross lacked the power to trouble goalkeeper Tim Krul and we hoped for better things after the break.
Newcastle introduced midfielder Johan Cabaye – out with a groin injury since mid-November – with just over half an hour left and another of their French contingent, Sylvain Marveaux, struck a long-range effort over the bar.
But it was City skipper Russell Martin who raised the temperature a little with a cracking half-volley from outside the penalty area that clipped the outside of the post after Bradley Johnson latched on to Mike Williamson’s clearance.
Striker Grant Holt, who scored twice in the corresponding fixture last season, returned from a hamstring injury in place of Jackson with a quarter of the game to go. And with 15 minutes left, one deft touch from Holt was enough for Snodgrass to race away and set up Pilkington with a clear chance, but as the winger cut inside Debuchy, Krul blocked his goalbound effort at close range.
Unsettled Magpies skipper Fabricio Coloccini volleyed over following a corner with what could have been a spectacular winner – perhaps even a farewell gesture – but it was City who finished stronger, only to squander their dead-ball opportunities.
Not until the final seconds of stoppage time did they go close to snatching a dramatic victory, Holt heading substitute Elliott Bennett’s centre across goal but just too wide and too strong for Pilkington to apply the finishing touch.
Mr Carrow wouldn’t have seen it, though. He already had his feet up in front of Final Score.