Photo Gallery: Norwich City’s stock is clearly on the rise
Everton 1, Norwich City 1: Never was the contrast more apparent between two clubs moving in the opposite direction.
Everton's Goodison Park is a monument to the past. A famous old stadium that has echoed to the sound of great players and great teams down the years. The 'Grand Old Lady' is a lasting monument to former glories. Except nowadays it's not just the surroundings that look frayed around the edges.
Everton's Latin motto, 'Nil Satis Nisi Optimum,' is emblazoned everywhere. Nothing but the best is the literal translation. On the evidence of recent years, you would beg to differ.
Everton's line up oozed undoubted quality. Plenty of internationals and high profile names were listed on the team sheet – but something is not right. All is not well. The ambience around the ground was for the most part sombre. Almost funereal. It took 52 minutes for the first throaty rendition to emerge from the die hards who occasional sit, more often stand, in the lower Gwladys Street end situated behind John Ruddy.
The groans were audible inside the opening minutes; indicative of the sense of frustration and nervousness of a club struggling with itself. Bill Kenwright continues his search for the investment to allow a sharp operator like David Moyes to compete on an even keel with not only their rivals across Stanley Park, but the neighbours in Manchester and the London powerhouses.
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Football perpetuates a culture of short-termism. Moyes' men may cut through the festive gloom and emerge emboldened. Victories carry wonderfully restorative powers. Landon Donovan has already agreed to return for a brief loan stint. More astute signings may follow. Belief may well return again, but on this evidence there is worrying fault lines developing through a club and a squad of players who have seen better days. A wonderfully loyal support is in need of a lift.
Maybe Norwich City's presence in town did little to set collective pulses racing amongst the majority of Evertonians. A newly-promoted club under a manager still finding his feet in the Premier League and a group of players that could walk down any High Street outside of Norfolk unmolested.
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But Norwich right now is a club on the rise. Bold, vibrant, fearless. There is no inferiority complex on the pitch or in the stands. The Canaries do not have the same decorated history, the rich seams of trophy-laden success. No matter. Tradition and heritage should be lauded but it counted for little here as the strains of 'Z-Cars' drifted away. Substituted for silence. Yet, Everton started with a vibrancy reminiscent of Norwich's previous trip to Liverpool.
Louis Saha looked in the mood. Leighton Baines was adventurous down the left. Leon Osman offered craft and balance down the right. Kyle Naughton was booked inside four minutes for a mistimed challenge that halted Ashley Cole's England understudy. For all City's lauded ability from the air, it was Everton raining balls into Ruddy's penalty area in an attempt to home in on Marouane Fellaini's forehead.
Ruddy had to smother at the Belgian's feet after Tim Cahill's flick dropped into his path. Osman cut dangerously inside Marc Tierney but Russell Martin diverted a goalbound strike up and over.
Fellaini's muscular presence from the resulting corner forced Ruddy to brush behind again under intense pressure. It was sustained. It was potent. It was still silent. At one point in a crowd of over 30,000 you could hear the flow of conversation between Andrew Surman and Tierney sat high up in the Main Stand.
Norwich grew as Everton's early fire subsided. Lambert's squad now has the experience gained from trips to Stamford Bridge, Anfield, Old Trafford. The manager and his coaching staff can deliver all the motivational, tub-thumping speeches you want in the cosy confines of Colney.
It's only when your collective backs find themselves against the wall as a Wayne Rooney or a Luis Suarez threaten to run riot that you learn whether or not you can cope.
Norwich may have only secured one point from those three previous high profile trips, but the self-belief and inner confidence deposited must have been immeasurable. Grant Holt opened his Premier League goal account at Chelsea. A sublime overhead flick from the edge of the area; a trademark brave header in front of the Kop earned a draw. Holt clearly relishes the big stage. His turn and intuitive slot via Tim Howard's left-hand post bore all the hallmarks of a man flourishing in such rarefied surroundings. It was instinctive. It was class.
Holt received Steve Morison's cushioned pass with his back to goal six yards out – and John Heitinga touch tight for company; a Dutch defender who appeared in the last World Cup final no less. Holland may well deserve its reputation as the home of total football, but a small outpost is alive and flourishing in Carlisle. Holt rolled Heitinga before a drag back deceived the advancing Tony Hibbert prior to a stab with his left in one glorious co-ordinated movement that sold a lie to the myth he is merely an old fashioned English number nine. It was a finish Jimmy Greaves in his pomp would have been proud of.
It also shattered Everton's brittle confidence. City played out the remainder of the opening period in the comfort zone. Bar the odd flash of inspiration from Saha who turned Zak Whitbread but cracked inches wide with Norwich's fans still celebrating. At one stage of the proceedings, Norwich went from back to front and through midfield via numerous phases of patient passing that carried an air of arrogance. Paul Lambert's men were enjoying themselves as Everton toiled. Morison glanced Surman's free kick wide under pressure at the back post. Lambert threw his hands to his head. It was his opposite number with the headache. Negativity washed down from the stands triggered by Lee Probert's half-time blast.
Moyes is a street fighter. An abrasive, caustic character. Lambert would have known full well the bitter tone of a fellow Glaswegian's message to his troops at the interval.
Osman let Saha's ball run across his body but Ruddy parried before profiting from rare indecision in Norwich's midfield to drag wide. The early first half pattern looked set. History almost repeated itself when Holt arrived with a perfectly timed run to direct Naughton's teasing cross just over the angle of Howard's left-hand upright.
Everton advanced with renewed vigour. Ruddy was out sharply to parry Saha's intended flick from second half arrival Denis Stracqualursi's towering knockdown before Martin bravely blocked the Frenchman's shot when Ruddy and Whitbread tangled.
Fundamentally, this game hinged on another Everton substitute. Another Dutchman. Royston Drenthe injected a directness singularly absent from the hosts' play. The Real Madrid loanee's presence also sparked a rise in the decibel levels.
Norwich had been forced to repel sporadic forays; now the tide began to flow incessantly towards Ruddy. Whitbread's shadow was enough to unsettle Saha, but the former Manchester United striker had no such excuse when he miscued six yards out. Drenthe had already veered violently off his right wing to unsettle Tierney once. City failed to heed the warning, although his weak shot was heading towards Ruddy before Osman's decisive late touch altered the trajectory.
Cruel it may have been with that first league clean sheet on the horizon. Merited it certainly was for Everton's sheer force of will over the closing stages.
Goodison Park was alive. Energy cascaded from the dormant terraces. Drenthe drilled venomously but straight at Ruddy from the edge of the area before trying his luck again minutes later with a vicious swerving strike the former Evertonian fortuitously shovelled behind with his right forearm.
The siege of the Gwladys End was in full flow. Tierney drifted across magnificently in the final minute to thwart Stracqualursi who had stumbled his way through.
Norwich held firm. Everton had ran out of time. Both clubs could claim a pyrrhic victory from a match that ebbed and flowed relentlessly.
A draw was perfectly fair on reflection – but right now you would rather be in the Canaries' camp.