Norwich City 1 – 0 Manchester United: Reds lose top spot after Canaries’ composed display
Manchester United relinquished their position at the head of the Premier League after being beaten by a resurgent Norwich City. United, who had scored 44 goals in 17 matches this season, failed to add to that tally and couldn’t achieve a turnaround like their last two games against Braga and Aston Villa.
The 1-0 result may have been less of a shock to the Carrow Road faithful, who would have pointed to the Canaries’ unbeaten run of five games going into this match, only shipping two goals in that time. Then again, hindsight’s a wonderful thing – especially for the bookies.
And as pivotal as the defensive trinity of John Ruddy, Sébastien Bassong and Michael Turner have been in this particular Norfolk renaissance, the midfield was where this game was won, and was what ultimately foiled the 2011 champions. Norwich, like so many teams against the Big Four, started the game with five across the middle. Wayne Rooney’s absence through injury was sorely felt. The England forward has proved so effective at dropping back into the midfield, allowing creative players like Ryan Giggs and Antonio Valencia more freedom going forward. Javier Hernandez, his replacement, hardly had a sniff.
The game itself started evenly, with a couple of chances apiece. Early pressure from the visitors amounted to little more than a drive from Robin Van Persie, which was saved by John Ruddy low to his right.
Norwich evidently were not to be overawed by the occasion. Their first real chance came when the influential Wes Hoolohan set Javier Garrido free, exposing Manchester United’s defence before the Lazio loanee pulled his shot wide. It was a tit-for-tat kind of first half. Midway through the period, Hoolahan delivered a cross for Robert Snoodgrass, who headed wide, providing foreshadow for what was to come later. Robin Van Persie had a chance, after spinning his marker, to meet a chipped pass from Ryan Giggs, but the Dutchman’s famous touch deserted him.
Ruddy closed the half with a superb save after a Van Persie corner was flicked onto Young, who fired back across goal. Ruddy was at full stretch down low to his left, and the stop would have been even sweeter with the knowledge that England’s manager Roy Hodgson was watching from the stands.
In the second half, for a short period United looked sharp. However, it was a case of “cometh the hour, cometh the former Red Devil man” as on sixty minutes Garrido was picked out on the wing by Hoolahan, before the Spaniard crossed to the front post where Anthony Pilkington had beaten his marker and subsequently looped a delicious header over the helpless Anders Lindegaard.
Norwich persevered with their plan of trying to play some football, much to the delight of the home crowd who was in full voice throughout the match.
Aside from a series of corners, from one of which substitute Danny Wellbeck sent a bundling header wide, Manchester United failed to create many significant clear-cut chances.
In fact, Norwich had the best chance to seal the game, but Jonny Howson squandered a one-on-one, after being released by Steven Morrison.
United did create a brace of opportunities, however, deep into injury time. John Ruddy was the saviour again as first Bassong almost headed into his own net before a shot from Anderson was claimed with Paul Scholes ready to pounce. Ruddy held on to the ball, at the second attempt, as if it was a newborn child.
Manchester United were consigned to their third league defeat of the campaign, while Norwich extended their unbeaten run to in all competitions to six – in thoroughly deserved fashion.