Sport Soccer

Thursday 21 August 2014

Pilkington sinks off-colour United

Norwich 1
Man Utd 0

Published 18/11/2012 | 05:00

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Everyone inside Carrow Road waited patiently for the Manchester United onslaught, but it never materialised. We have become so accustomed to seeing United battle back when all seemed lost that it felt inevitable that they would break Norwich's hearts.

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Not this time. For once, there was no late comeback, no victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, no chance to demonstrate their powers of recovery. Instead there was only the embarrassment of a third defeat of the season that saw them relinquish their lead at the top of the table to Manchester City.

Despite the repeated escape acts from seemingly hopeless situations this season, this is not a great United side and their opponents are nowhere near as intimidated as they once were.

Norwich, their belief raised by an impressive run of five games without defeat and recent wins over Arsenal and Tottenham, took inspiration from the way Aston Villa's robustness unnerved United last Saturday, refusing to be cowed and taking the game to the visitors.

The early signs had not been encouraging for Norwich though, as Robin van Persie found space on the edge of the area before bringing the best out of John Ruddy with a low drive. Yet although United enjoyed the majority of possession there was not enough drive from the lacklustre midfield pair of Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs. United, missing the invention and guile of the injured Wayne Rooney, were predictable, overly reliant on Antonio Valencia's crosses.

Having survived that early scare, Norwich, initially content to play on the break, pushed forward and could have been ahead by the interval if Grant Holt had been sharper when presented with two inviting opportunities.

First he failed to gamble on Javier Garrido's low cross across the face of goal and then, after Robert Snodgrass had tricked his way past Patrice Evra, was denied by Chris Smalling's vital intervention. By then, Ireland under 21 Anthony Pilkington, dangerous and direct on the left, had already fired inches wide of Anders Lindegaard's left post.

However, United are always a threat, never more so than after being let off the hook, and reminded Norwich of the need to remain focused as the half drew to a close, Van Persie producing an air-shot from Giggs's delightful chip and Ashley Young forcing Ruddy into a wonderful stop.

United still looked vulnerable though, and Norwich sensed their growing unease. A goal was on the cards.

The most damning thing that can be said about United's inertia is that when it arrived in the 62nd minute, it was hardly a surprise. Garrido, constantly thrusting forward from left-back, overlapped and sent in a glorious cross and this time Smalling could do nothing as Pilkington darted in front of him to arc an unstoppable header into the top-left corner.

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