Photo Gallery: Norwich City’s show of unity against Reading underlines their Premier League credentials
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It started out like a political rally and finished as the Last Night of the Proms. Carrow Road bore witness to a truly remarkable Premier League occasion.
When the clappers fell silent Norwich had emerged victorious to claim three points, which in all probability will secure their top flight status. Given the turbulence since the turn of the year and the struggles to extricate themselves from the gathering storm below it felt like so much more.
Too often this season has appeared a grind to endure, an attritional battle to survive, but there was a freedom and an energy which eventually overwhelmed a game Reading side who departed Norfolk hurtling in the opposite direction. Two leagues and many millions in fresh broadcast revenue will separate these two clubs next season; yet at times there was precious little to divide on another tension-inducing afternoon of angst.
Rarely will the script go to plan as sweetly as this. Right from the moment City's FA Youth Cup starlets appeared on a sun-kissed pitch, to the entrance of former stalwarts of the parish like Dion Dublin, Darren Eadie and Darren Huckerby. The atmosphere bristled with expectancy. Norwich's support played a full part in the proceedings with a crescendo of noise that only abated when Michael Turner departed the scene just before the midway point of the opening period.
This was Norwich's day of reckoning; a Premier League season condensed into one 90 minute cameo against the bottom side. Elliott Bennett typified the ferocious intent in those early skirmishes, but when the breakthrough failed to materialise Reading gradually emerged from the suffocating forward pressing of Kei Kamara and the revitalised Grant Holt.
You may also want to watch:
City increasingly found themselves the hunted as the half elapsed. Mark Bunn remained largely watchful, but their was an inner confidence and swagger to the Royals and an athleticism in the shape of Nick Blackman and the excellent Garath McCleary that must have left many of a home persuasion shifting uneasily.
The irony was that half-time had intervened to Norwich's detriment against Swansea at Carrow Road two weeks previous. City had managed to shake off a lethargic beginning to finally engage the Swans higher up the pitch. Here they were thankful for the intermission. Had the second period started in similar fashion to the end of the first that groundswell of optimism and hope swirling around Carrow Road may have dissolved.
- 1 'Unauthorised' headstones ruin family's final wishes
- 2 New Lidl supermarket opens in Norwich
- 3 Tributes to popular entertainer after death following tragic accident
- 4 'It was as if Covid didn't exist' - Latitude-goers report positive tests
- 5 Hospital investigated over 'contentious' deaths goes bust owing £4m
- 6 Neighbours sick of road turning into 'scene from Fast & Furious'
- 7 Fresh weather warning with Storm Evert set to hit Norfolk
- 8 Man was found dead after lockdown hit business, inquest told
- 9 Anti-vax protesters descend on Norwich pub demanding entry
- 10 Victoria Hall murder: Suffolk strangler Steve Wright reportedly arrested
City rumbled forward through Kamara, who unleashed a rasping hit that Alex McCarthy shovelled over his bar. From the resulting corner Robert Snodgrass arrowed a ball across the six yard line met with muscular intent by Holt. Ryan Bennett's finish belied his job description as a cultured centre half as he reacted quickest to the rebound that spat up from the over-worked McCarthy.
In the fullness of time the Norwich defender's intervention at the opposite end in the final seconds may go unrecorded, but it was no less significant in defining the Canaries' fate on a day when anything less than victory would have been deemed as abject failure. McCleary's acrobatic bicycle kick flew barely a yard wide in the last breathless alarm in front of the Barclay, but it was Ryan Bennett throwing his frame in the line of sight that proved suitably distracting.
City also earned a measure of good fortune when the tireless Elliott Bennett's scuffed right foot strike after an exquisite kill on his chest brushed McCarthy's outstretched leg and spiralled over the helpless Adrian Mariappa. There was barely enough room for the ball to loop under the bar when a truer shot would have beaten McCarthy and headed towards another Reading defender stationed on the goal line. Given the sour end to proceedings at Arsenal few should begrudge City if the fates decided to smile kindly.
Norwich pounded away in the minutes that followed with Kamara, Snodgrass and Jonny Howson all firing on sight. McCarthy's manful obduracy contrived to frustrate. When City's well-marshalled defence were unable to prevent McCleary's swinging hit deceiving Bunn the victory procession became a tightrope walk. It was perhaps entirely consistent with Norwich's campaign they should be buffeted by fresh adversity. From that first whistle against Fulham on another glorious afternoon by the Thames, Hughton's squad has been routinely tested. Many portray the prevalence of goalless affairs or the escalating number of drawn games as evidence of a cautious approach to Premier League survival. But that journey has also included some epic peaks and troughs, from the giddiness of home wins over Arsenal and Manchester United to the brutally heavy defeats. In the fallow periods, there have been genuine grounds for concern, but Reading was ultimately a joyous episode.
The sound from those rhythmic clappers reverberated around Carrow Road again in the last 10 minutes.
Not in celebration, but in exhortation to rally the men in green and yellow as they inched towards a pivotal league win. There was no need for a repeat of the co-ordinated pre-match appeal, it was a wonderfully spontaneous expression of support when the final whistle could not come quickly enough for Hughton and his players. It was defiant and it was deafening as normal time gave way to five potentially torturous minutes of additional agony.
McCleary's flashing effort aside, Norwich navigated a comfortable passage, with Holt predictably prominent in City's attempts to retain possession as far away from Bunn's goal as the parameters of Carrow Road would allow.
The Norwich captain has had his detractors this season. The re-definition to his game to comply with Hughton's model has dramatically lessened his goalscoring ability, but when it mattered most, when Norwich's season was to all intents and purposes on the line, Holt delivered.
Reading's centre-backs were dominated aerially and McCarthy suitably unsettled in the defining moments of that second period. But the skipper was not alone on a day when Norwich delivered on and off the pitch. Perhaps that should be the abiding memory of this stirring win.