The bitter irony at the heart of Norwich City’s vibrancy in Chelsea reverse
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
That the mortal blow in a frenetic encounter originated from Norwich City's attacking ambition must prove the bitterest irony.
This is a club and a manager who have been routinely castigated in certain quarters for caution as the default setting in the search for Premier League longevity.
That desire to attain a defensive resolution at this stage of last season's faltering campaign which was portrayed as a strength is now increasingly viewed as a handbrake to unlocking the latent forward potential of a squad embellished over the summer recess.
Yet the decisive moment owed as much to City's desperate search to sate the appetite of a raucous Carrow Road crowd for a winner as it did to Eden Hazard's predatory instincts or Oscar's astute sense of opportunity. The gathering siege of the Barclay and the incessant ferocity with which Norwich poured forward threatened to overwhelm one of the best sides and one of the best managers in Europe.
John Terry and David Luiz exhibited visible distress signals whenever Nathan Redmond rampaged down either flank after Anthony Pilkington had softened up the Blues' rearguard in a shift which underlined his residual value to the cause. Petr Cech batted away one swerving strike from the newly-introduced England Under-21 starlet as the tide lapped inexorably around the Czech's penalty area.
When Oscar lashed home in the fourth-minute during the Blues' most potent spell there looked only one winner. When Pilkington embarrassed Luiz to glance home Ricky van Wolfswinkel's header an hour or so later the pendulum had swung violently in the opposite direction.
In the intervening period the Canaries engineered a sustained dominance of territory and possession, with Jonny Howson again a counter-point to the athleticism of Leroy Fer and Alex Tettey. Van Wolfswinkel's search for goals continued in another shift notable for his industry rather than his intent, but there was fresh evidence to suggest the Dutchman's recent isolation has ended through the adoption of the central midfield formation trialled so successfully at Stoke.
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There was a calmness and a maturity in the manner City switched the point of their attacks despite the cultured presence of men like Frank Lampard and Ramires, Oscar and Juan Mata. With each passing week, Martin Olsson looks to share the same attacking instincts as Russell Martin stationed on the opposite flank. Pilkington and Robert Snodgrass cut inside safe in the knowledge they had overlapping team mates willing to retain that width.
Yet it was again undeniable those final slivers of precision were still too often absent. Much as they had been against Aston Villa in another Premier League home defeat that sparked a rather different response from the crowd at the final whistle. Appreciation not frustration was the mood music this time around for a collective shift dyed in honest endeavour and a willingness to resist despite the obvious structural disparities that afforded Mourinho the luxury of introducing a match-winning duo who cost in excess of £50m by all conservative estimates.
In that respect one could draw a financial parallel with City's toil at Tottenham only last month, but that is where the statistical comparison ended. Even in heart-breaking defeat, this Norwich line up appears to have grown immeasurably in a relatively short period of time since their mauling at White Hart Lane.
Cynics may feel Mourinho's graciousness towards Hughton and the Canaries ahead of the trip to Norfolk was perhaps motivated by self-preservation, but the Portuguese boss was equally fulsome in his post-match reflections.
Norwich's vibrancy forced Mourinho to broker a sizeable gamble that saw England international Ashley Cole withdrawn and the visitors' revert to a defensive three; that admission alone should provide cold comfort when the disappointment eventually recedes.
The gnawing realisation Norwich were unwittingly architects of their own implosion may take longer to shift. You could well reflect on individual errors from the delivery of Pilkington's corner to Hazard's rapier finish which the classy Belgian midfielder rifled underneath John Ruddy's body that effectively halted City's second half surge, but it was Norwich's desire to strive for all three points rather than settle for one that should be the abiding legacy of this thrilling contest.
That would mark a sea change in outlook, fuelled in part by a home support who conjured the type of Carrow Road atmosphere that has been noticeably absent for too long as they watched a side cast in their image actively shedding the strictures that appear to have weighed them down in the recent past.
For that you should also look to Hughton, who unleashed both Redmond and Gary Hooper in the aftermath of Pilkington's deserved equaliser in a bid to complete a turnaround that would have brought much more than merely a second consecutive Premier League victory.