Photo Gallery: Beaten by Newcastle, but more like the Norwich City we all know
Newcastle United 1, Norwich City 0: The Canaries' display in the north-east hinted they may have re-discovered their Premier League mojo.
Since FA Cup defeat to Leicester and a stoppage time league reverse to Manchester United, the Canaries looked lifeless for long spells at both Stoke and against Wigan.
A world-weariness had infused their play, bereft of the copious reserves of renewable energy that forced many an opposition to play at their tempo or get swept aside in the process during the previous months.
Dips and downturns were inevitable along a memorable top flight campaign. The worry with the season approaching its twilight – both as a result of league points already accrued and a gap that shows no sign of diminishing to those in greatest peril – was the sub-conscious desire to free-wheel might take over.
To think the job is done; traits completely alien to Paul Lambert and a club which has barely paused to catch its collective breath during the past three seasons.
City's bid for a first Premier League win in five may have rolled onto a haunted-looking Wolves at Carrow Road this weekend, but the irrefutable evidence here was that Norwich fancy a final flourish. City have some desperately tough looking fixtures. Wins may be hard to come by, but the Canaries look in the mood again to try and go out with a bang.
Lambert will not admit it publicly, but the mission now is as much building for another season of top flight combat as it is securing survival. The City chief will want those under his command to prove they have the hunger to go again; to not settle back into a comfort zone that right now appears to have afflicted many of those clubs dwelling towards the rear. The perennial strugglers.
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After Papiss Cisse had struck with barely ten minutes gone, Norwich could have thrown it in. The ground formerly known as St James' Park is a tough location when the natives are in full cry. Alan Pardew's men had given them plenty of ammunition in a breathless opening burst. Cisse drifted away from skipper Elliott Ward before expertly controlling Yohan Cabaye's lob, but the Senegalese striker's finish failed to match the initial thrust to allow John Ruddy a chance to extend his frame to pluck the ball to safety.
Pardew's youthful dogs of war, James Perch and Danny Guthrie, snapped around David Fox and the rest of Norwich's midfield. Jonny Howson intelligently slipped his binding to burst clear only for Mike Williamson to illegally stand his ground. Fabricio Coloccini subdued Ward in a back post duel to clear Fox's flighted free-kick. Newcastle's French artisan Cabaye powered down the left but his cut back was cleared by a combination of Ward and Zak Whitbread.
City's central defensive lynchpins would have greeted Pardew's team sheet with dry mouths. The decision to harness Cisse in tandem with his compatriot Demba Ba after the 16-goal striker's lone front running role at the Emirates was a signal of forceful intent.
City survived one raid down the left. A second proved beyond them. Jonas Gutierrez vacated his temporary left-back station to tease Kyle Naughton before whipping in a devilish cross which Cisse anticipated fractions of a second ahead of Whitbread to clinically steer past Ruddy from ten yards.
Newcastle's high intensity pressing was suffocating. Cabaye was even on message to track Elliott Bennett right back towards his own goal line. Yet the former Brighton man remained City's liveliest spark; escaping the attentions of the attack-minded Gutierrez at will. Tim Krul confidently gathered one probing cross at his near post. Williamson's lazy stroll out of defence allowed Anthony Pilkington and Steve Morison to trap him in a pincer that freed Howson to rifle a rasping strike inches past Krul's crossbar.
Pardew's disdainful stare on the touchline said it all – not the most advisable path to long term career prosperity for Newcastle's number six; or the affections of the black-and-white followers who savagely turned on Williamson like a pariah. Pilkington pirouetted to buy a sliver of space centrally, but the impressive Krul was fully behind the strike. City were definitely showing signs of a revival after a self-inflicted blow from the men in green.
Even the faultless Cabaye was not immune to terrace ire when his aimless crossfield ball failed to check Norwich's growing sense of belief. City's measured territorial approach was beginning to blossom – with Howson at the hub. Lambert's recruitment policy has unearthed plenty of gems to date and the ex-Leeds captain looks to be cut from the same seam; muscular endeavour with an intelligent ability when to swap defensive discipline for attacking verve.
Fox in his deeper-lying protective role was all the insurance needed to allow Howson to roam. Perch felt the full force of a committed hit from the Yorkshireman in front of the dug outs. Newcastle probed for weakness again on the half hour mark – with a predictability to the surge as Cisse, Gutierrez and Cabaye overloaded the left flank.
The former Lille playmaker's guided strike was touched goalwards by Ba, but Ruddy stretched every inch of his physique to claw the ball away. It was a wonderfully agile save – the type the Norwich fans high up in the clouds behind that goal have come to expect.
Likewise, how City's best mode of defence has often proved all out attack. That desire to carry the fight well away from Ruddy's penalty area.
Naughton dropped a gorgeous pass inside Gutierrez for Bennett, but Cabaye cleared at the second attempt. The Argentinian looked suspect whenever isolated, and City were not slow in sensing the opportunity.
The ineffectual Hatem Ben Arfa belatedly made a meaningful contribution as Newcastle switched the point of the attack, but Ba remained the preferred end game – Naughton was both alert and brave to block the hitman's volley.
Pardew's men appeared intent on reasserting control after a sustained spell of away ambition. Every foray into the Norwich final third carried a latent danger with the Senegalese striking twins a mobile target to aim for. Gutierrez pierced Norwich's exposed right-flank again with a ball around the corner.
Cisse was the recipient. The number nine found Ruddy a formidable barrier – as many have before him this season. City's keeper was out and down to smother his intended lift.
Andrew Surman spurned a chance for parity in the closing seconds of the opening period. The midfielder dragged well wide from the angle of the six yard box after the effervescent Bennett's deep cross had dipped over Pilkington and Danny Simpson.
Fox's free-kick then sailed well over in stoppage time. It was symptomatic of Norwich's opening shift; flashes of promise but little precision. Newcastle deservedly led for their greater potency.
Fox picked out the free-running Howson on the restart. The 24-year-old's wild first time half volley was totally out of character with the stylish control that had gone before.
The finish was wayward, but Fox's shadow was now all over this contest. Pilkington raced inside Simpson, but Krul narrowed the angle to save expertly with his legs. It was merely the warm up act for a breathtaking one-handed tip over to deny Whitbread from six yards out from the next passage of play after Bennett had tormented Gutierrez for the umpteenth time.
Surman and Pilkington then sliced through an increasingly fraught Magpies' rearguard to drag Krul out of position, but there was no Norwich shirt to apply the coupe de grace.
Gutierrez was mercifully reprieved when Ben Arfa was replaced by Davide Santon. Defensive solidity checked Norwich's momentum. Grant Holt's arrival, followed shortly afterwards by Wes Hoolahan, provided all the ingredients for a fabled last stand from Norwich. Pilkington's exit, with the wide player clutching his left hamstring, robbed City of one profitable avenue of redemption.
Norwich, you sensed, still had enough firepower to fashion one clear-cut chance. Steve Morison burst clear from Whitbread's relieving header in the final minute of normal time. With Krul to beat the Welsh international tamely dragged at the Dutch custodian. With it went City's prospects of tangible reward. That may come this weekend.