Paddy Davitt verdict: Bullish and bold Norwich City must ride this wave
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Carrow Road found its voice on a day when Norwich City's players delivered a Premier League statement of intent.
The earth may have literally moved for Leicester fans, when the Foxes inflicted a bitter late 1-0 league defeat on Alex Neil's side recently, but the tremors would have been felt in the north-east if Graham Dorrans had guided his 85th minute shot inside Joe Hart's far post.
Only those in sky blue could have begrudged the Canaries a fabled victory after a collective shift rich in the application and streetwise nous sadly lacking at crucial moments since the turn of the year.
The sobering reality after savouring this uplifting outing was the cold fact Norwich continue to inhabit the relegation zone and in the short-term are reliant on Claudio Ranieri's title challengers ensuring Rafa Benitez does not have an immediate impact when Newcastle head to the East Midlands this evening.
Thereafter, the onus is on Neil and his players to harness the residual benefits of pushing Manchester City to the brink for the final onslaught.
The conundrum is why Norwich appear capable of sharing the same pitch as world class talent like Sergio Aguero or Alexis Sanchez and yet fall short at Bournemouth or Aston Villa or Swansea. It can only be the weight of expectation and tension that grips such encounters against direct rivals where the prize feels exponentially bigger. That is a worry moving forward, given Norwich's fate will be sealed by their ability to curb such anxiety when they host Sunderland and Newcastle or travel to the likes of West Brom and Crystal Palace.
Norwich remain holed below the waterline at this advanced stage of the season because such consistency, both in performance and result, has proved maddeningly elusive. Yet after the sustained questioning of Neil's methods and his players' appetite and perhaps even quality this felt like blessed relief. Rarely has the script run this true since that landmark win at Old Trafford before Christmas.
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Neil made it clear prior to the contest the plan was to frustrate, to force Manchester City to become ever more expansive and then look to profit on the counter. After a fraught opening quarter, when Sergio Aguero threatened to maintain his strike rate of a goal every time he had set foot on Norfolk soil, Norwich edged forward; tentatively at first with a burst from Jonny Howson deep into enemy territory setting the tone. The recalled Martin Olsson and captain Russell Martin offered width down either flank, Patrick Bamford's intelligent movement produced an instinctive slashing strike that cannoned against the top of Hart's bar and behind him was Gary O'Neil, prompting and probing from deep-lying areas.
O'Neil is a throwback to footballers of yesteryear; the head bandage protecting that war wound suffered against Chelsea reinforcing the grainy image. He might not be the most technically-gifted but bar that rush of blood at Stoke he has emerged as a key figure, a redoubtable character who relishes this type of fight. Defiance was stamped through Norwich's labours, from John Ruddy denying Aguero with a superb one-handed low stop to Timm Klose emerging as the defensive leader the Canaries' have craved. The Swiss international was a totemic presence when Manchester City's cultured precision gave way to desperation in the final throes. There were moments of concern, inevitably, against such gifted attacking players but that was always going to be the case.
The difference on this occasion was Norwich resisted, they found a way to repel the raiders amidst a raucous din whipped up home fans who basked in the energy and the industry expended by the men in green and yellow.
It was a glorious interlude after so much gloom marred only by Norwich's inability to engineer a winning strike and Nathan Redmond's early injury exit. City need positive news on both fronts for the battles ahead.
This was more than a hard-earned point, it could be a catalyst, a blueprint, a way forward. Time will tell if too much ground has been left to cover after a wretched winless run. Norwich would hardly pick West Brom and the wily Tony Pulis as a destination of choice to inject real momentum into a nascent survival push. Yet equally they should travel with renewed belief and confidence.
If the Canaries can subdue a Manchester City missing only the moody Yaya Toure and Kevin de Bruyne then Neil has the tools at his disposal to match any of their upcoming opponents. To slip away now, after expending so much effort and displaying so much belief, to let relegation rivals ease into the distance would be criminal. Norwich on their day can operate in the Premier League. They proved it against Manchester City. They need to prove it against the lesser lights.