Now that’s why it’s the beautiful game
NORWICH CITY 2, BURNLEY 2: For football fans, this is why it was labelled the beautiful game. For football managers, this is why Steve Bruce is as grey as a badger.
It may not have been played in its purest form, but the best example of football's most popular cliche – it was a game of two halves – had all the ingredients that a paying audience could ask for.
Goals, controversy, quality, a change in fortunes that Peter Snow and his swingometer would die for – and the perfect illustration that nothing is concluded until the Fat Lady sings along with the rest of the most raucous Carrow Road crowd of the campaign.
Burnley fans didn't like what unfolded, as their team overcame their usual travel sickness only to be harried into submission by a resurgent City side after the break.
Two goals down and City could, as Burnley manager Brian Laws pointed out, have been on the end of a cricket score.
Perhaps the Clarets should have watched the DVD of last week's City performance at Cardiff a little more closely. Had they done so they might have spotted that vital signs of recovery can sprout at any time. A week earlier City had also trailed by two goals, but they halved the deficit and were then punched in the guts by a refereeing decision which gave Cardiff a penalty, and put the game out of reach. The fourth goal was vital then, and it would have been vital on Saturday. That City got it was thoroughly deserved.
Again a hand was involved – that of the scorer, Andrew Crofts. Burnley were right to claim he controlled the ball with his arm before firing in the equaliser, but try telling that to 25,000 City fans. Try telling that to Paul Lambert. Try telling anyone who was there that City didn't deserve what they got on the back of their second-half performance – and a split second moment at Cardiff the week before.
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It hadn't always been the case on Saturday afternoon. Burnley had started brightly, Chris Eagles getting a couple of sighters in early on which didn't exactly ruffle John Ruddy.
City were getting decent balls into the area, notably right-back Russell Martin, but finding someone to do something with them when they arrived was the tricky part. Burnley's passing and movement was good, the two full-backs were getting forward at every opportunity and there was a growing confidence in their ranks.
It produced the opening goal on 26 minutes when Martin Paterson, a player strongly linked with a move to Carrow Road in the past, converted after a nice passing move involving Wade Elliott, Jay Rodriguez and Mears, who squared it perfectly from the right of the area.
Seven minutes later and Paterson had scored his second of the season, justifying Laws' decision to start him in place of leading marksman Chris Iwelumo. It started with a ball over the top by former Canaries loan player Dean Marney, which split Barnett and Elliott Ward. Barnett gave chase, but by the time he got to Paterson the Burnley striker had already taken his shot, Ruddy getting a hand to it, but unable to prevent it crossing the line.
Burnley cruised to half-time, by which time their every pass was being greeted by shouts of 'ole' and Eagles was already bringing out the back-flicks. Big mistake.
The burst of booing from some of the home supporters that greeted the half-time whistle signified their annoyance – its brevity maybe proof that they have learned not to doubt the character of this particular Norwich City side and its chameleon-like qualities.
Simon Lappin didn't reappear after the break, with Anthony McNamee introduced to add width down the right, where he began to give left back Danny Fox his first real test of the afternoon. McNamee was fed the ball at every opportunity, which kept Fox out of harm's way at one end, and on the retreat at the other. City were immediately on the front foot, almost at Burnley's invitation at times, and the more they took control, the more the volume from the stands lifted.
Lambert shuffled things around again when left-back Steven Smith went off, pushing Russell Martin across to left-back and dropping Korey Smith to right-back from midfielder. It had little detrimental effect – Martin is in a good vein of form, while Smith has an awful lot of good defensive qualities and loved the opportunity to feed the ball wide to McNamee and then support him.
If City needed just a little something extra to make the changes work, then it came in the shape off Chris Martin, a player who has been relegated to cameo roles of late with Simeon Jackson taking over duties alongside Holt who, incidentally, probably wore the soles of his boots off on Saturday with the effort he put in.
Just eight minutes after Martin's arrival he had pulled a goal back. Hoolahan slipped the ball to Crofts, who had made a run down the right side of the area. The Welshman slid and effected the square ball to Martin in one movement. Martin, six or so yards out, proved his natural ability by allowing the ball to do the work; one deft touch with his right foot, a turn and then a left-foot finish. All round it was a quality goal.
McNamee cut inside for the umpteenth time and hit the base of a post, but while the onslaught continued it looked, with 10 minutes remaining, as if Burnley might have drawn City's sting.
Time wasting was the order of the day, Crofts was booked for a foul on Rodriguez and there was a danger it might just get too scrappy to create anything of note.
Crofts had other ideas. In time added on he surged from midfield and fed Chris Martin on his left. Martin played a short pass right to Russell Martin; not a great ball, but Clarke Carlisle's attempt at a clearance wasn't the cleverest thing he's ever done. The ball ricocheted off the full-back and towards Crofts, a yard inside the area. He raised his left arm to control the ball. Burnley arms went up to claim a free-kick, but Crofts simply fired in a sweet left-foot shot which shook Carrow Road to its foundations.
Chris Martin might have won it with a curling shot that skipped by the far post, but the four minutes of time had one more twist, with Crofts lunging at Mears, earning himself a second yellow card and a one-match ban.
It was the final notable act, and fitting that all eyes should be on a player who has done so much for the City cause this season. Lambert will be forced to do without him at Millwall tomorrow evening, and may just have to think a little longer about Chris Martin, and whether to reinstate him in his starting line-up.
City's never-say-die attitude will stand them in good stead, but the habit of giving opponents two-goal leads needs to be nipped in the bud. Had Burnley been as good as, say Cardiff, City wouldn't have got a point.
Fortunately there aren't many Cardiffs and QPRs around, but there are a lot of teams who are about as good as each other, which is why the table is so tight.