Epic Norwich City prove they belong in the Premier League
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
There are days in the life of a football supporter which make all the heartache and the angst worthwhile. Norwich City's sense of timing was impeccable as Alex Neil's men picked the most iconic stadium in the land to experience a Premier League epiphany.
This landmark win, this first success at the Theatre of Dreams since 1989, was predictably painted as an inquest into Louis van Gaal's governance, beyond the borders of Norfolk. So be it, but the Canaries and Neil deserve fulsome credit for their counter-attacking victory.
The sense of disbelief was etched on the features of Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey in the midst of both goal celebrations; a small but delicious slice of payback for a series of heavy beatings at Old Trafford when United were truly the dominant force in English football.
The Red Devils' response to adversity was pitiful. Anthony Martial reduced the deficit but Declan Rudd was required only once to beat away Juan Mata's late free kick. United's fan base delivered their damning verdict at the final whistle as van Gaal departed the crime scene.
Neil and his players lingered in front of an ecstatic away end. This was a result of historical importance but the Scot is not a manager who dwells on the past. Norwich's second league win in 12 eased them out of the bottom three for Christmas and narrowed the gap to those above them. That should be the enduring legacy when the euphoria subsides.
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City's manager was tactically flawless against the vastly more experienced van Gaal.
Norwich set out to frustrate in the first 30 minutes and for all United's possession, the policy was an unqualified success; the only omission a counter-attacking dimension to force van Gaal's side onto the back foot.
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Nathan Redmond burst free to pick out Jerome, who veered inside the grounded Chris Smalling before holding off Michael Carrick to whip a shot across David De Gea.
Norwich reprised the same trick after the interval. This time Tettey robbed Wayne Rooney, England's talisman but increasingly a fading force in the red of his club, to exchange passes with Jerome and poke past De Gea from 18 yards.
Norwich were bossing proceedings in the house that Sir Alex built; if this was Ferguson's era such temerity would have provoked a ferocious onslaught. Waves of attacking intent would have rumbled towards the Stretford End. The current crop tried to respond but there was a visible lack of confidence; a draining of self-belief with each passing minute.
The fallout began moments after the final whistle as van Gaal trooped wearily towards the tunnel. For Neil and Norwich, the Dutchman's troubles are irrelevant. The Canaries had emphatically signalled they have the tactical nous and cutting edge to pick up results in the Premier League.
City have now taken points from Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United. Those self-inflicted blows at Manchester City and Chelsea cost them dearly. Watford was an anomaly, a frustratingly sterile display which must remain the exception in the months ahead.
Neil projected no outward signs of doubt in the difficult moments; either in his methods or the application from those players at his disposal. Beating a toiling United does not lessen the need for reinforcements in January, but it may convince the doubters outside the camp Norwich can not only mix it with the elite but prevail against direct rivals.
The energy, the collective pressing, the aggressiveness to City's play flooded back with those clinical strikes from Jerome and Tettey.
Neil has spoken at length about finding the right balance. At times in Manchester, Norwich were in perfect harmony. Rudd and his backline resisted, Tettey and Gary O'Neil roamed, Redmond was the creative spark from those encouraging early weeks and Jerome was at his maddening best.
The same man snatching at an inviting chance to sink Everton was a study in composure as he embarrassed a pair of England internationals before whipping a close range strike beyond arguably the best keeper in the league.
His weight of pass and the precision timing for Tettey to burst clear and seal victory after the interval was no less impressive. Jerome operating at such a potent level renders the enduring arguments over who should spearhead Norwich's frontline irrelevant.
But such consistency, both for him and Norwich, have proved an elusive commodity. Much was made of harnessing a catalyst, in the manner of Bournemouth's recent upsurge, to turn promise into tangible progress.
City departed Old Trafford with the platform for a productive festive period. Van Gaal may be on borrowed time, but Norwich need to capitalise on a new lease of life.