All together better

STEVE GEDGE The only similarity with this and Norwich's previous two visits to Stamford Bridge was the scoreline.

STEVE GEDGE

The only similarity with this and Norwich's previous two visits to Stamford Bridge was the scoreline.

With no early defensive howlers this time and a bit more of an aggressive approach, City went to Chelsea and gave it a real go. And, as a paying punter, that's all you really want. Even when the second goal went in, Norwich kept going and going and going.

Frankly, the last two goals were undeserved, and 2-0 would have been a far more reflective scoreline.


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But beforehand you'd have been happy to settle for a four-goal margin if you knew that the Canaries were going to frustrate Chelsea so much that after half-an-hour Jose Mourinho was going to totally lose it when a throw-in decision (wrongly) went against the home side.

After City's previous two trips to Chelsea the only 'if only' to ponder was 'if only we hadn't conceded after 11 and ten minutes respectively'.

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There were far more 'if onlys' this time around.

If only City's players could be that motivated and focused every single week - we certainly wouldn't still be talking about the threat of relegation, that's for sure.

Take Dickson Etuhu as an example. On Saturday he was absolutely superb. Never mind the post-hitting shot, in the first 20 minutes he imposed himself superbly on the opposition with 'just to let you know I'm here challenges' on Paulo Ferreira and Didier Drogba. This is the most frustrating thing about City's No 20 - he's plainly got some sort of ability, but we've only really seen flashes of it other than in the first month of the season and on Saturday. People get on your back Dickson because you seldom look like a £450,000 purchase. Play like this more often and they'd be a whole lot more encouraging, believe me.

If only Robert Earnshaw had been around. Okay, a familiar enough refrain in these parts over the last five weeks, but if you add an in-form striker to the spirit and commitment shown on Saturday we could have got a draw.

This is no direct criticism of Luke Chadwick (who will probably have nightmares about his chance for the rest of his life) or Chris Brown, but you could imagine Earnshaw comfortably putting away both that follow-up with the goal opening up and the free header in the second half.

If only the goalkeeping injury had come at the other end of the field.

Losing David Marshall did not prove to be as disruptive as I feared, especially since Chelsea weren't able to put Paul Gallacher under an immediate burst of pressure as he adjusted to the pace of the game.

But you do wonder how things would have panned out had Chelsea been forced to bring on Henrique Hilario for Peter Cech. You certainly can't imagine anyone else stopping Croft's second-half effort. 'World class' are easily bandied about words, but definitely apt in this case. And at only 2-1 up, having used all their substitutes, what would Chelsea's response have been?

If only the pitch had been better. Frankly, I felt Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke's pre-match remarks about the poor surface being a leveller were a bit insulting. City can actually play on a proper pitch, you know.

You look back to the ties at Tamworth and Blackpool and have to say that slightly below-par displays were, in part, down to the poor conditions.

Saturday's quite appalling pitch did no one any favours, and it would be interesting to know if Marshall privately considers it a factor in his injury.

If only Shaun Wright-Phillips' shot hadn't taken a deflection. Enough said.

For me, the big difference from previous trips to Stamford Bridge was that City were not only able to have more fans due to FA regulations, but also that they were housed in a better part of the ground. Support loses its impact when you're stretched across the length of the pitch in a vey low tier of seats.

On Saturday, though, with the whole of the Shed End full of City fans, it was very different. Frankly I'm amazed that they sold as many tickets as quickly as they did, given what happened the last time as large a number of Canary supporters visited West London, but this occasion was a whole lot more enjoyable.

And at least this time Chelsea managed to fill their ground for an FA Cup tie, although you have to say that the presence of 17,000 extra home fans didn't result in a proportional increase in atmosphere.

But the level of City's support on Saturday was absolutely brilliant, so much so in fact that one of the club's joint majority shareholders appeared to forsake what was presumably a reserved directors' box place to sit at the front of the Shed End upper tier. I suspect that it was a much more atmospheric position, since Saturday came as a stark reminder of what Premiership football entails. I know it's the place we all want to be in, but you quickly forget what soul-less, corporate, money-making arenas the big clubs play in now.

But all this is behind us now - except for one small matter.

Peter Grant said there was no point his team going to Chelsea and sitting back because they didn't have the players to defend.

Well, they probably don't either for a visit to Preston - where they haven't scored in their last two league visits - or for the visit of an Iain Dowie-inspired Coventry complete with Andy Marshall and Leon McKenzie (and it will be VERY interesting to see what sort of reception he gets.)

How about rather than approaching both games cautiously City go out and give it a real go again - just as they did on Saturday. You never know, it might just pay off.

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