Monday, February 4, 2013
With bottom club Queens Park Rangers winning just one Premier League home match all season and the Canaries collecting three points only once on their travels, one might have known what to expect.
But it was thanks largely to the agility of both goalkeepers that there were no winners at Loftus Road, nor yet any goals to cheer for the lowest top-flight crowd Chris Hughton’s men have played in front of this season, not forgetting the Sky audience for the day’s televised early kick-off.
The man who did most to ensure that was City’s Mark Bunn, who conceded a 56th-minute penalty but dived to his left to make a brilliant save from Adel Taarabt.
The Rangers midfielder had been their most impressive performer until that point, but it was a spurned opportunity that left manager Harry Redknapp wondering just whether his injury-hit team – now six points adrift of 17th place – can put together the kind of run they will need to pull off another great escape from relegation. Manchester United are the next visitors to Shepherd’s Bush, not a bad place to start.
Certainly City will have been happier with a point from Saturday’s encounter and maintaining a seven-point gap over the bottom three, though the fact that every team below them managed a win or a draw on Saturday means they can not rest easy. They have not won in eight league games and if they are, in cricketing terminology, going to get them in ones, it could yet be a long three months.
At least successive draws against Tottenham and Rangers have lifted the mood a little and offer hope that the Canaries will claim a long overdue victory over Fulham – some 27 years overdue, in fact – before the enforced fortnight’s break resulting from their FA Cup exit at the hands of non-League Luton Town.
Most of City’s 1,600-plus fans in West London may have been hoping for an early glimpse of new signing Luciano Becchio, but they were made to wait until three minutes from time as Hughton relied on the eleven and the formation that served him so well against Spurs.
Most of the meaningful action was confined to the second half, but Taarabt and City pair Robert Snodgrass and Wes Hoolahan provided a few brief highlights before the break.
With just four minutes gone, Snodgrass crossed to the near post but Hoolahan’s touch flew over the angle of post and bar.
Taarabt went much closer on 10 minutes when he struck a low drive just past Bunn’s right-hand post.
The Moroccan’s close control set up another chance for Jamie Mackie, but the lone striker pulled his shot across the face of goal.
With City losing Anthony Pilkington to a hamstring injury and briefly down to 10 men while Michael Turner received attention for a bang in the face, they could be satisfied to reach the interval on terms.
Eight minutes into the second half, City had their best opening of the match when Hoolahan’s first-time touch from a Snodgrass cross produced a brilliant one-handed save from Rangers’ Brazilian ’keeper Julio Cesar, form he will hope to reproduce if he gets the chance to face England at Wembley on Wednesday night.
But just as it seemed the Canaries were enjoying their best spell, Rangers were handed a golden chance to secure a rare home win.
Javier Garrido’s poor backpass fell way short of Bunn and as Mackie nipped in, the ’keeper crossed his path sufficiently for a clash of knees to bring him down.
Referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot and booked Bunn – one five City players to be shown the yellow card – but he threw himself low to his left to make a fine save.
Not to be outdone, it was Cesar’s turn to shine again as he beat away a powerful long-range attempt from Bradley Johnson.
It was the battle of the ’keepers now, but when a free-kick by Taarabt got through, City skipper Grant Holt was on hand to hook away a header by debut-making defender Christopher Samba, the “colossus” who could ultimately cost Rangers a cool £26m in transfer fee and salary.
As the pace was stepped up, Bunn saved from Andros Townsend, Cesar turned a swerving effort from Snodgrass round the post and, with four minutes left, Townsend let fly from long range, forcing Bunn to dive acrobatically to his left to deny him.
Becchio’s arrival prompted penalty claims from City during five minutes of stoppage time when he may have been pushed over by Tal Ben Haim, but it was a shade optimistic. Somehow this match was always destined to be a goalless draw.