Norwich City will be judged on different stages

Mark Bunn demonstrated his courage on several occasions, no more so than when saving at the feet of

Mark Bunn demonstrated his courage on several occasions, no more so than when saving at the feet of Robin van Persie. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City suffered a brutal reminder at Old Trafford of their place in the Premier League hierarchy.

Whether they deserved the scale of the beating dispensed is largely irrelevant. Manchester United have better players. United's ambitions this and every other season will always far outstrip those of the Canaries. The financial resources and the global fan base elevate them onto a completely different plane; they are two clubs spinning on vastly different axes who meet twice a campaign in the current climate.

The emotional outpouring that greeted Norwich's Carrow Road league win over a superior foe earlier this season and the historical nature of that victory serve merely to underline the chasm – not offer a justification for those who question why the Canaries failed to come anywhere near a repeat. It is not defeatist to state as such; it is a realistic appraisal of the relative achievements of clubs operating at different ends of the Premier League spectrum.

Norwich's success story right now is defined by their ability to visit Old Trafford and all the other elite outposts across the top flight. Not in their ability to upset the odds for a second time and emulate what only Tottenham had managed in a season of masterful domestic superiority from United.

That steady rate of progression may have its critics who urge Norwich to raise their collective sights and aim for more than merely the status quo and another shot at being mauled in Manchester next season. It is also hardly consolation for the thousands who will have spent time and money making this pilgrimage to Old Trafford. Or Anfield. Or Stamford Bridge. What they saw again is what they already perhaps knew. Norwich City is a side of honest players with a fantastic team spirit and an experienced manager who continues to extract the maximum from his resources. For anyone who thinks differently take a look at the current Premier League standings. What Norwich faced at the Theatre of Dreams was an amalgam of world class talent, years of top flight experience and precocious youth.

Norwich went with the game plan that earned them a landmark win over the Reds in Norfolk and for 75 minutes it had travelled north in robust fashion. United enjoyed almost total control of the ball and territory but City were again resolutely disciplined in front of Mark Bunn; breached only once in the closing seconds of the opening period when Robin van Persie anticipated the trajectory of Antonio Valencia's cross a shade quicker than Sebastien Bassong to divert the ball into the path of Shinji Kagawa who stabbed between Bunn and his near post.

Given the array of stars in a powerful home line-up it was a sour way for City to concede. Both in creation and execution it owed plenty to Norwich's collective failure to sense danger. Something they had impressively retained for the duration of the opening period. The visitors had denied United space to raid down the flanks in a reprise of that suffocating pressure they successfully exerted earlier in the season. Anthony Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass were again deployed as auxiliary defenders in front of their full-backs, yet it took just one brief aberration from Pilkington to allow Valencia an opportunity to deliver for the opener.

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Bradley Johnson and Jonny Howson had erected a road block in front of Bassong and Michael Turner that invited United to probe centrally where City could swarm and over-populate the pockets of space available in front of their back four. Wayne Rooney and van Persie's telepathy inevitably delivered an antidote at times, but Bunn was a brave last line or City's defence made vital interventions.

This was no onslaught in the mould of Liverpool or Chelsea. Norwich exhibited an assured degree of control that belied the majesty of their surroundings. There were even the stirrings of a sporadic threat to finally test David De Gea early in the second stanza with United's victory still far from certain. But Norwich's obduracy was met with fresh reserves of patience. United face this type of conundrum most weeks. The sight of double player-of-the-year van Persie being withdrawn ahead of Real Madrid's Champions League visit may have appeared a pyrrhic victory for the Canaries. In reality, it merely sealed their downfall. Rooney became the focal point supported by Kagawa who was re-deployed into the space vacated by the Englishman.

It was a masterstroke from Sir Alex Ferguson. Johnson and Howson now had the Japanese playmaker for company along with Michael Carrick and Anderson. Danny Welbeck injected pace and direction from the flanks to torment a visiting outfit that was starting to exhibit distress signals despite the introductions of Kei Kamara and Elliott Bennett.

United's dominance in the final 15 minutes bordered on cruelty. Visibly tiring from the scale of their exertions, copious space and time was now afforded the Reds as City shed their defensive strictures in a vain bid to try and grab a lifeline at the opposite end.

Those restrictive, claustrophobic pockets of space offered up in the first half had become gaping holes. Rooney's movement bisected Turner and Bassong before the Parisian was exposed in graphic fashion and Kagawa dismissively rolled Ferguson's side into the comfort zone.The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder then escaped detection again when he ran off the back of City's central midfield two to lift a composed clip over the grounded Bunn. Rooney's fearsome fourth was every bit as emphatic as United had been from start to finish.

Perhaps not in their fabled potency in front of goal – despite the final flattering scoreline – but in the measure of how they had controlled this latest Premier League test on the way to surely dethroning their neighbours.

United remain the gold standard; a bastion of enduring excellence and a fitting tribute to Ferguson's greatness as a manager.

Norwich never remotely threatened to tame the Red Devils as they had in the corresponding fixture. But Manchester United is not the Premier League benchmark for City. That will be gauged in their success at edging out the likes of Southampton, Reading and Wigan over the course of nine gruelling months.

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