Bold, Bullying and Calculated
A run of three defeats in a row was to be followed by this trip to face Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium. I wasn`t exactly pessimistic about our chances there but I did think we`d have to play very well to get anything.
If we played like we did against Liverpool we would have no chance. I mentioned last week that I thought Elliot Ward had a very poor game against Liverpool and that I would like to see Russell Martin at centre back.
To be honest, with Adam Drury injured I couldn`t see Paul Lambert being able to make the change. With all our defensive injuries, Norwich City are currently short of options at the back.
Or so I thought. Lambert obviously agreed that Ward was terrible against the reds and duly dropped him to the bench. Russell Martin started alongside Ryan Bennett with another start for Simon Lappin at left back. Now, we all know that Lappin is not a left back per se but he never lets anyone down so I applaud our manager for making this bold decision.
Another bold decision was to play the diamond formation away from home with Holt and Jackson up front. With less than two minutes on the clock though, we were a goal down.
Ryan Bennett`s defensive header fell to Rosicky who drove forward and fed Benayoun on the left. He was shown inside by Naughton and then made some space for a shot with some dazzling footwork before curling a lovely effort past Ruddy who didn`t move.
"Here we go" I thought, I feared the worst but as it turned out I needn`t have worried.
City simply picked themselves up and went for it. They played some lovely expansive football of the type that disposed of Tottenham on our last visit to North London.
With 12 minutes on the clock Elliot Bennett fed Naughton on the overlap and his low hard cross fell to Hoolahan 10 yards out. Wes` first time side foot was on target but not that powerful, however, Szczesny wasn`t expecting it and it crept past him and we were back on terms.
Just before the half hour mark it got even better as City took the lead.
A fast Norwich break then found the Canaries with a three on two situation.
Hoolahan fed Holt who had Gibbs for company. The City captain hesitated before taking his shot which ballooned off Gibbs` foot and over the helpless Szczesny to score his 14th goal of the season.
Holt slid on his knees in front of the Arsenal fans, held his arms out and then pointed his thumbs to the name on the back of his shirt - I loved it!
Incidentally, Wenger threw his water bottle down in fury when Holt scored, I loved that as well.
Five minutes later, The Gunners lost Sagna to a broken leg. A seemingly innocuous challenge with Johnson left the right back on the floor. He got up and tried to trap a loose ball with no-one near him and fell to the floor in agony.
I`ve since read that Sagna is blaming Johnson of maybe hurting him deliberately - looks like an unjust accusation to me. I`ve watched the replay back and it doesn`t seem like anything nasty took place. I know Sagna will miss the Euros but it`s not a nice thing to say.
Before half time, City had two penalty shouts turned down when Coquelin took Hoolahan`s legs - that was a maybe but the definite "can`t believe you didn`t see it ref" shout then happened when Koscielny grabbed a fist full of Martin`s shirt and pulled him down.
Benayoun also got away with a kick out at Simon Lappin which if seen might`ve meant a red card for the Israeli.
At the start of the second half, it should have been 1-3 when Jackson turned on the afterburners and scythed through the middle and found himself one on one with the 'keeper. His tame shot straight at Szczesny brought hands to heads all round.
Norwich continued to press for the first 20 minutes of the second half before Arsenal started to turn the screw and force City back to defend deeper. Despite Arsenal`s shot count increasing, the canaries continued to ask questions and a lovely move by Hoolahan and Holt saw Wes pass to Holt whose exquisite chipped pass saw him find Hoolahan in the area, his first time volley went desperately close but wide.
On 72 minutes though, Arsenal were level. A defence splitting pass from Alex Song found Van Persie whose fine strike beat Ruddy. Lappin had the misfortune of playing him onside, when the rest of the defence had moved up. The previously grumbling and moaning home crowd were now lifted and sensed a victory.
With just ten minutes left they thought they had it when a ricochet fell to RVP who turned and flashed the ball past Ruddy from 12 yards. Ruddy got a hand to it but could do nothing else.
By now Lambert had altered things. Pilkington had replaced Hoolahan to move to a stiffer 4-4-2 formation, Morison had replaced Jackson and Wilbraham had replaced Holt.
This game had already been breath taking but the Canaries weren`t done yet.
Song was beaten high up the field by Jonny Howson who then chipped the ball over the top into the path of Morison who hit a first time shot low and hard across Szczesny for the equalizer.
The City faithful erupted as Morison ran towards them, behind the goal past the Arsenal fans with his finger to his lips Sssssshhhhhhh!!!!!
There was more drama to come though as somehow referee Taylor missed Naughton shove RVP into the City goal as the ball ran harmlessly wide - incredible from the ref, as bad as his miss for the Martin shirt pull.
There was also time for Ruddy to save from RVP at close range and block Song`s outrageous back heel and then right at the death pull off another tremendous save from a close range Gibbs header.
Wenger was visibly furious at the whistle and stomped towards Lambert - he couldn`t bear to look at King Lambert and barely shook his hand before storming off down the tunnel.
This was a return to form for Norwich and then some - a brilliant display that was as good as we`ve seen for a while. Another statement that says "We belong here".
The decision to play Martin at centre back was both brave and calculated. Martin had a terrific game - not only did he play his own position but he had the vision and pace to cover his full backs when they went forward.
Ryan Bennett also looked more assured than I`ve seen him in recent weeks, not a coincidence I think. Lappin is not a left back but does what is asked of him. He didn`t let us down and managed Gervinho pretty well.
Hoolahan, Jackson and Holt were all excellent going forward. Holt gave a virtuoso centre forward display here, making several great passes, flicks and headers as well as scoring a goal. He literally bullied Vermaelen and Koscielny all afternoon - they couldn`t handle him and he had a fine game.
Jackson also did very well but continues to spurn chances when he gets them. Is he really good enough for this level? I`m not that sure.
Steve Morison finally answered some of his critics and scored a cracking goal here.
The argument over his body language and perceived lack of effort has raged for weeks now and countless rumours as to why also abound.
But he showed here what he can do. His first time right foot shot showed what he is capable of - it was a clinical finish.
And so our away days are over for this season...
We have succeeded in five wins away from home which is a whole five more than the 04/05 season. That`s not to be sniffed at and results like this one have kept the points tally ticking over.
Now on to a triumphant last home match against Aston Villa next Sunday.
Neither team have anything to play for as such but another three points could see us potentially rise another couple of places and get the extra prize money that will bring.
One more match - let`s go one more time, then you can have your well earned holidays.