'There's Only One Chrissy Hughton...'
No one expected much from the Arsenal game and we would`ve all taken a point before the start of play against a Manchester United side that were top of the League on Saturday morning.
Especially after United`s recent run of form with nine wins from their previous ten league fixtures. Despite that form though, they have gone behind in 11 of their 18 fixtures in all competitions this term. Villa showed last week that you can get at them and came close to pulling off a shock win.
I always fancy us at home though, against any level of opposition and five matches undefeated pointed towards us giving them a game.
Hughton played it straight and fielded the same formation that has been so good for us lately with a 4-2-3-1 and the same set of players that have performed so well.
The United team wasn`t short of stars either, with RVP being partnered by the in-form Hernandez. Anders Lindergaard kept goal with De Gea out after wisdom teeth trouble.
Within a few minutes of the start it was RVP who came the closest United would come all evening to opening the scoring. He hit a low shot from the edge of the area and Ruddy seemed unsighted. I was right behind it and feared it was going in, but Ruddy threw himself to his right and pushed the ball out for a corner. It was a top drawer save with Roy Hodgson watching from the stands.
But in all honesty, that was their best chance of the game. Bassong came closest to beating the City keeper in injury time but Ruddy was equal to that too.
United had a fair bit of possession and stroked the ball around effortlessly but mostly in the midfield areas that didn`t hurt Norwich at all.
The reds were playing a flat 4-4-2 with Ryan Giggs and Carrick in the centre. Both had very average games and Giggs best moment came when he chipped a lovely through ball to RVP. The Dutchman let it drop over his shoulder and then got his legs all wrong and promptly fell over - he looked like Bambi on ice. He ended up sitting on the floor as the ball went out with the jeers of the Barclay ringing in his ears.
Norwich meanwhile seemed to have the freedom of the wings and both Snodgrass and Pilkington were able to find literally yards of grass to run into.
When City had the ball they were good in possession and used it well. Wes Hoolahan had another tremendous game as he continually picked up the ball in the hole between Ferdinand and Smalling and Carrick.
He gave the ball away a couple of times in the first half but constantly provided an option. On one occasion he took a high ball out of the air, turned and sped away from a bewildered Carrick who could only marvel at Wes` close control and first touch.
He even used his right foot (unheard of) to shoot and then later send in a cross which was headed just wide. A mate of mine said of Wes that "if he had a right foot as good as his left he`d be an Irish Lionel Messi" - I agree, he`s been brilliant this season.
Pilkington had a good first half and played a beautiful reverse pass to the on rushing Garrido. Javier ran into loads of space and sent a cracking cross right across the united goal, Holt was a yard away from it at the back post.
On the other flank, Snodgrass also had a great moment when he ran at Ferdinand. He twisted one way then the other before darting for the bye-line. Rio couldn`t keep up and Snoddy was able to send a low cross across goal. Holt was there but the alert Smalling was able to get a single toe to it to keep the ball away from Holty - good defending.
The half finished level to a rapturous round of applause from the stands as the City players were cheered off with a standing ovation - we were playing very well.
The second half started as you were for both sides.
United didn`t trouble Ruddy too much although the Reds still had a fair bit of possession. This was shown by the number of corners they achieved - Twelve to City`s none.
Wes continued to have a lot of the ball and he was ably supported in midfield by Tettey and Johnson, who once again played with commitment and tenacity. They bite like tigers when they tackle and are able to pick a pass to boot. The two City wingers were also heavily involved as United couldn`t seem to be able to do anything to stop them receiving the ball.
Johnson looked to have been tripped on the edge of the United area as he twisted and turned. Giggs was the offender but the referee, Mr Taylor (from Greater Manchester) waved it away. Surely if it was a dive then Johnno should`ve been booked? - but he wasn`t.
Finally, on the hour mark, the space that City were enjoying on the flanks paid off.
Wes received the ball in the middle of the United half and sprayed the ball out left to Garrido who was in acres of green grass.
Javier sent in a delicious flat cross and Pilkington rose to meet it with a splendid flicked header that sailed past Lindergaard into the net.
One nil and it was thoroughly deserved too. Now, surely the backlash would come. United are no strangers to making a comeback and I feared it here.
Fergie reacted by sending on Scholes and Welbeck and finally, Anderson to try to get something from the game. Chris Hughton responded on 83 minutes by replacing Holt and Hoolahan with Morison and Howson.
Both Holty and Wes left the field to standing ovations after running themselves into the ground for the cause. The formation stayed the same and Morison in particular showed plenty of fight and steel during his short cameo.
United started to press and began to camp on the edge of the City area as the clock ran down. Welbeck had a header go just wide and Bassong tested Ruddy from a RVP free kick with a header that the City keeper had to stretch to tip over.
With 90 minutes on the clock, Morison received the ball and surged forward. It was 2 on 1 with Howson the free player. Everyone was screaming for Moro to send it and he duly did. Howson was away and bore down on the United goal, a one on one with Lindergaard. From the edge of the area though, he sent his shot wide. It was a poor finish and lacked composure but he had only just come on. Holt would`ve buried it.
Ruddy was quickly down to collect a tame shot from Anderson and that was that.
Carrow Road erupted as the final whistle was blown and we had beaten Manchester United. Giggs` face as he trudged off was an absolute picture.
The atmosphere at the end of the game was electric. John Ruddy turned towards the River End and screamed as he shook his fists - "Ruddy, Ruddy, Ruddy" chanted the crowd. With the England manager watching, he had produced a brilliant goal keeping display. Unfortunately, Fergie will have seen it too. How he must wish he had a keeper as good as JR. Let`s hope he doesn`t wish too hard eh?
It was a great team performance and once again every man played his part. The defence were outstanding with Garrido and Whittaker rampaging forward as well as being solid at the back. Bassong and Turner were also terrific, with Turner blocking Hernandez at every turn during this match. Bassong has been superb since he arrived and now the real Michael Turner has stood up we are feeling the benefit with five clean sheets in our twelve games - that`s three more than our opponents here.
With the City fans singing "We support our local team" and "No noise from the Yarmouth boys" it was another chant that caught my attention.
For the first time, I heard our fans sing "There`s only one Chrissy Hughton."
I`ve not heard any open moaning against him, we`re not like that. It takes a lot for us to get on our manager`s back. Remember how long Worthy had before it turned?
But the significance of this chant shouldn`t be overlooked - Hughton has come to our club and brought in a load of new players. It`s taken a while to integrate them all and it took him a while to find the right formation. We suffered three beatings before Hughton has drilled our boys to become a tight, solid outfit that don`t look like conceding easily.
Sure, we aren`t exactly prolific in front of goal and our last three league wins have come with one nil wins. But I for one will take that any day of the week.
On Match Of The Day last night, Gary Lineker opened the talking about this game by saying "Norwich were terrific". Harry Redknapp said "This was no fluke, they deserved it."
Alex Ferguson himself was very complimentary after the match and conceded that Norwich out fought his side and that they deserved to win.
United might have played below their own high standards but make no mistake, City`s effort stifled their creative output to fits and starts and I have a really positive outlook on the rest of the season.
On the day that Villa lost five nil and our old mates down the A140 were being soundly thrashed six nil in the King Power Stadium, Norwich City - our team were turning over the most famous side in the land, if not the world. League leaders and winners of the title 19 times and we beat them, it doesn`t get any better than this…