Norwich City go back to the future to find the answer to Premier League struggles
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The searing focus on Norwich City's deficiencies in recent times had served to mask the traits that propelled them ever upwards on an inexorable rise to the Premier League.
For the Canaries to realistically survive and flourish in the top flight, Carrow Road must be an intimidating arena for opposition players and managers, not a court of public opinion with Chris Hughton in the dock, as it resembled too often during this fallow spell.
Leroy Fer's stoppage time goal was greeted by a cacophony of noise last heard on such a scale in the survival-sealing win over West Brom. Hughton stepped aside to leave the stage to his players as the Dutchman embraced the benched Sebastien Bassong before disappearing under a heap of delirious team-mates in front of the home technical area.
It was a symbolic show of unity in stark contrast to an opening hour you feared had sown the seeds for fresh discord and a poisonous finale. One can easily dismiss the latent benefits of a club visibly moving forward together, but it is as relevant now as it was at any point on the giddy ascent from League One.
That Jussi Jaaskelainen proved an unwilling accomplice in the drama was a delicious irony given his obduracy last season in Norfolk. The keeper's costly spill compounded by an ill-conceived attempt to rectify the situation in hauling Gary Hooper to the ground may carry far-reaching ramifications for both clubs.
At the final whistle it was Sam Allardyce slumped in his dug-out and facing the same awkward line of questioning Hughton has diplomatically deflected for what seems like an interminable period. For that, he need look no further than Norwich's inability to marry positive patches of performance with definitive results. West Ham must mark a new dawn, not a respite from a mess of the Canaries' own making.
City's honesty, inner belief and will to resist in the face of fresh adversity from a well-drilled Hammers' midfield bordered on the remarkable. Hughton will have known what lay ahead at the final whistle if his side had failed to rouse themselves into concerted action after Ravel Morrison plundered from Kevin Nolan's cut-back.
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City's management and players were given a taste of the reaction at the half-time interval. To respond as they did and with the wounds inflicted at the Etihad still painfully raw offered season-affirming evidence Norwich can hope for more than chasing a lost cause.
The challenge now is to replicate the same reserves of fighting spirit and quality that defined their efforts in the second period. When Norwich hit such heights and the decibel levels rise in support at Carrow Road they are a formidable foe. Only time will tell if the storm has passed but the release of tension and the waves of relief were palpable in the aftermath of Fer's cool finish.
City's players lingered before embarking on what looked like a choreographed tour of all four corners of the stadium in a show of support towards a fan base whose collective patience they had tested to the limit. To retain that backing they must be just as fearless, just as aggressive as they were after the interval to force a streetwise West Ham into submission.
Allardyce bemoaned his keeper's rare error of mis-judgement, but the game was still in the balance when Hooper slammed home the spot kick. City earned a reprieve when James Collins hooked wide from inside the Norwich penalty area shortly afterwards, but that was a temporary spike in an incessant flow towards the hesistant Finn.
Robert Snodgrass will have enjoyed few sweeter moments at Carrow Road than the emotional release that surged through his battered and bruised body as he watched a sweet free-kick nestle just inside Jaaskelainen's left-hand upright, with the keeper seemingly frozen in suspended animation. Snodgrass' personal torment in Canary yellow this season to a large extent has mirrored that of his team. The Scottish international was an easy target for those struggling to comprehend why Norwich have failed to attain the same heights as this stage last year when they were in the midst of a club-record unbeaten surge and Snodgrass was a leading light in an inaugural season that ended in fulsome acclaim.
The prodigious work rate remains a staple ingredient but when he produces sublime individual brilliance on such a grand scale he is a invaluable commodity at Hughton's disposal.
The international break may now harm rather than hinder the Canaries after fresh momentum was injected into a season that had stalled amidst a torturous exposure to the elite. But it may also provide respite from the fractious atmosphere that had enveloped City's work. The magnitude of their second half comeback against a West Ham side who slipped below them in the standings re-affirmed the belief that Hughton and his players possess the requisite quality to accompany the graft and toil to compete with the majority of their rivals.
Victory was all that mattered against the Hammers. That it was triggered by Jaaskelainen's rush of blood was immaterial. Norwich will justifiably feel they have earned a break or two.