Canaries rattle United's cage before Anderson restores the status quo
Man Utd 2 Norwich 0
Manchester United were made to endure some worrying moments by newly promoted Norwich City before relief came in the form of second-half goals from Anderson and Danny Welbeck.
Alex Ferguson used his programme notes to repeat his unhappiness with the defensive performance of his team during Tuesday's 3-3 Champions League draw with Basel, describing his team as "careless" and "lax" but it is difficult to know whether the personnel changes from that game were for the purposes of rest or punishment.
Certainly the inclusion of Anders Lindegaard in goal instead of David de Gea for the first time in the Premier League did not seem to be a sign of displeasure with the young Spaniard, as Ferguson again declared his faith in the £17m recruit. The reasons for Rio Ferdinand's omission in favour of Jonny Evans, on the other hand, may not be so reassuring for the former club captain.
The team news United fans will have most welcomed, of course, was the return from to the starting line-up of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez. The pair went into this game having already struck 11 Premier League goals between them this season, four more than the entire Norwich team. It took Rooney only two minutes to register his first shot on target, but his 20-yard trickler after a through ball by Darren Fletcher did not offer anything more arduous than the goalkeeper, John Ruddy, experienced in the warm-up.
The visiting fans taunted the few home fans who still don anti-Glazer green-and-yellow neckwear by chanting: "We've come for our scarves," and it soon became clear Paul Lambert's men had come on a mission, too, and it was not merely to contain United. Lambert fielded the same side that started Monday's 2-1 win over Sunderland and they soon set about testing the solidity of United's defence. Ferguson will have been angered by the ease with which Elliott Bennett got in behind Patrice Evra in the fifth minute, but perhaps not as angry as Steve Morison was when the winger misdirected his cutback from the byline, thwarting a tap-in.
Morison was to prove a nuisance to Evans and Phil Jones, whom he regularly outmuscled to hold the ball up well. In the 17th minute, he chested down a diagonal ball from the back, shrugged off Evans and fired wide from the edge of the area. That was as close as Norwich came in the first half as United gradually seized control of the game. However, with Ashley Young given the weekend off and Nani struggling to get into the game, the hosts lacked creativity, though credit for that must go to Norwich's discipline and tenacity. Kyle Naughton gave a superb example of that when he blocked a close-range shot from Hernandez after a pass from Rooney, and Russell Martin did likewise when he nicked the ball off Nani in the box with a perfectly timed tackle.
United's best chances of the first period came from corners. Fletcher met one of Nani's deliveries in the 33rd minute but his flick was cleared off the line by Marc Tierney. Two minutes later, Rooney nodded another Nani corner just over from four yards.
Norwich incursions into United territory became more rare but Morison was a menace in the 50th minute by receiving the ball on halfway, barging past Evans again and dashing into the penalty area. Only a timely intervention from Jones prevented a shot.
United went back on the attack after that but still could not penetrate. It was a tribute to Norwich's defending that Ferguson withdrew Nani and Hernandez on 65 minutes. Welbeck and Ryan Giggs were cast on in their stead. Within seconds Norwich should have taken the lead. Antonio Valencia dithered on the ball at the back and was dispossessed by Anthony Pilkington. With only Lindegaard to beat, he steered his shot wide, to the dismay of Lambert.
That dismay deepened two minutes later when Anderson at last broke through. Again a corner was the source of Norwich's problem. Giggs' delivery was headed on by Jones to Rooney and then Anderson, who nodded into the net from close range. Now Norwich had to commit fully to attack. Anderson almost unwittingly helped their caused in the 76th minute, when his deflection of a Pilkington shot wrong-footed Lindegaard. Agonisingly for the visitors, the ball bounced back off the post.
More frights followed for United, and they were grateful when Morison miscued in the 85th minute. Then came the sealer, Park Ji-sung teeing up a tap-in for Welbeck.
Sunday Indo Sport