Canaries are quick to set the standard
CHRIS LAKEY And for our next trick . . Perhaps Norwich City are going through the full repertoire, because last week we had the “played well but lost”, in midweek we had “played better and won”, and now we've been shown the “played average, then well, and won again”.
Norwich City 3 Luton Town 2
And for our next trick .…
Perhaps Norwich City are going through the full repertoire, because last week we had the “played well but lost”, in midweek we had “played better and won”, and now we've been shown the “played average, then well, and won again”.
Three games and three different shades of yellow and green. But what all three games have in common is the “played well” bit as well as the sheer entertainment value of it all, although that won't sit comfortably with those who are cardiac-challenged.
Nigel Worthington has insisted that the mental battle is vital this season and, when you look at last year, you can see why. There were so many times when the squeaky bum syndrome came into play. City were able to throw a match away simply by taking a lead and fluffing their lines. Or by going behind and dropping their heads. This year there's more of a punch about them, much more.
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Of the three games, this proved to be the trickiest: Leeds weren't bad, Preston were pretty average, but Luton were determined to build on their two wins.
From the off they were on to City like dogs around a bone. When a City player got the ball, a white shirt was there. Lee Croft wasn't getting much change out of Sol Davis down the right flank, and the City midfield were hounded wherever they went, meaning the passing game - which, to their credit they refused to abandon - wasn't quite as smooth.
Luton may have lost two of their best players - Steve Howard and Kevin Nicholls - in the summer but they've managed to keep hold of the excellent Carlos Edwards who, out on the right flank, is a fine outlet for the midfield. The problem was, just as City in the past have relied solely on Darren Huckerby on the left, Luton relied solely on Edwards down the right. And when he's not there - in this case, for much of the second half - the supply line dries up.
However, Luton were a goal to the good before Edwards' unfortunate coming together with Adam Drury's boot early in the second half and for that they owed the excellent Rowan Vine, whose 16th-minute cracker from 25 yards will take a lot of beating for sheer quality this season.
It was a shock to the system, particularly for the players who, if Worthington is to be believed, were guilty of believing their own headlines after the Preston display.
Certainly, you can't expect to just show up and win: you might consider Luton a tad “unfashionable” but it's 11 against 11, and their boys weren't for hiding. Vine, who did well for the Hatters at Carrow Road last season, albeit as a sub, could have made it worse but for some poor judgment on the edge of the area, while Robert Earnshaw did his best to deceive the Luton defence with a dummy from Huckerby's cross, but the visitors' defence was too cute to buy it.
Croft was endeavouring to get the better of Davis down the right, setting up Earnshaw for a lovely dummy which this time the Luton defenders - both of them - did buy, only for the striker to chip just off target.
It took half an hour for City to really get going, winning a number of free-kicks on the edge of the Luton area but failing to take advantage. And here lies a bit of a problem. First of all, Adam Drury's taking all the corners from City's right - swinging them in but, at least against Luton, pretty much straight into the keeper's hands. His free-kicks, of which he also takes a lot, weren't highly successful either. And the by-product is, if the kick is anyway right of centre, Drury has to leg it back into position should the opposition break - and that didn't happen just the once on Saturday.
Perhaps it's an indictment on the midfielders who would surely be at least as adept at taking the kicks. Drury's a quality player but his plate might be getting just a little too full.
Anyway, half-time was reached a goal down - a situation clearly not irretrievable. Seven minutes later and it was 2-0 - a situation not irretrievable, just a damned sight harder. But it was what had happened between the cup of tea and the goal that was significant. Firstly, Luton reappeared without defender Markus Heikkinen, who had suffered an ankle injury in the first half.
Then they lost Edwards - who, having received an inadvertent boot in the face, was left wondering just where he'd landed on earth from Mars. The Trinidad & Tobago World Cup player was escorted around the pitch to cheers - and a chorus of “who are you?” - a question he didn't look capable of answering.
Two goals to the good, but two players down - and Lewis Emanuel apparently struggling with injury too. City smelled blood and went for the throat. Huckerby put the frighteners on them with an exquisite finish - having mugged Kevin Foley for the ball 35 yards from goal he advanced on the area, drew Beresford and then slipped it into the back of the net.
Ten minutes later Croft levelled it after an exquisite ball by Carl Robinson set him up. Croft looked ready to whip in a cross, but instead sent the ball between Beresford and the near post. Mishit? Not on your Nelly.
City were two thirds of the way there - and Huckerby was in the thick of it when they finally killed Luton off, drilling a shot against the post after some lovely footwork on the edge of the area. Dickson Etuhu got hold of the rebound, Beresford saved well but the ball ran loose in the area and Earnshaw did what Earnshaw does best - finished the job off. Memories of Middlesbrough in the Premiership and QPR last season came flooding back. The difference on Saturday was that those two matches didn't really matter THAT much. City were pretty much doomed by the January when Middlesbrough came to Carrow Road, but after trailing 4-1 with 10 minutes to go they drew 4-4. The 3-2 win over a QPR side who led 2-0 at Carrow Road was in April - by which time the season had already been written off.
So now it was City's turn to answer a question. With 20 minutes to go, would they get the jitters, as they did far too many times last season? Answer: No.
This time, they played it sensibly, ate up the time and didn't panic while under attack from Luton's dying breath.
There were a couple of anxious moments, but nothing that Paul Gallacher couldn't deal with.
So, three points for City, one cheesed off visiting manager and a happy crowd. Worthington was right - it wouldn't have happened 12 months ago.