Tuesday 20 March 2018

City have the last laugh in late comedy of errors

Manchester City 2 Norwich City 1

Yaya Toure of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal from the penalty spot
Yaya Toure of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal from the penalty spot
Nicolas Otamendi of Manchester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal

Paul Wilson

This was the dullest of games with the liveliest of endings, thanks to two separate clangers from both goalkeepers in the last 10 minutes of the match.

Joe Hart appeared to have presented Norwich with a share of the points seven minutes from the end when he dropped Robbie Brady's cross to leave Cameron Jerome the simplest of tap-ins, and he must have been the most relieved man in the stadium when John Ruddy returned the favour five minutes later.

The Norwich keeper came out to claim the ball and stranded himself at the edge of his area, allowing Raheem Sterling a shot at an unguarded net that Russell Martin could only divert with his arm. The Norwich captain received a red card as a result, while Yaya Toure coolly slotted home the penalty to keep his side at the top of the Premier League table.

Even then, there was still time for Hart to redeem himself with a fine save from Martin Olsson that denied a second Canaries comeback, and for Aleksandar Kolarov to miss another penalty with the last kick of the game after Brady had brought down Sterling.

There was plenty to talk about in the end, but it was all packed into the last 10 minutes. Before that Manchester City had been making conspicuously hard work of seeing off a resolute Norwich side, conserving energy for their trip to Sevilla on Tuesday, perhaps, but displaying a lack of attacking ideas and invention that will encourage their Champions League opponents. Spanish scouts will also have noted below-par performances from Toure and Kevin De Bruyne, and the fact that Wilfried Bony is far from lethal in front of goal.

Norwich arrived with a flat back five and a plan to stay compact behind the ball, which worked reasonably well for over an hour, if it did invite the home side to camp out on the edge of their area. Bony three times had chances to open the scoring, but first found Ruddy equal to his speculative effort from 20 yards, then he missed the target completely from a better opportunity set up by Kelechi Iheanacho. Having swooped onto the ball and swept past Sebastien Bassong in one imperious surge, the striker seemed to have done all the hard work, only to allow Ruddy and the Norwich goal a reprieve by firing into the crowd. Norwich then almost scored on the counter, Matt Jarvis showing more accuracy than Bony from Brady's ball and bringing a good save from Hart.

That did not seem to spur City into any greater urgency. Toure brought another save from Ruddy from a free-kick, De Bruyne and Bony managed to pass up another opportunity between them and Vincent Kompany put a header wide from a corner. It was not a great deal to show for almost three-quarters of the first-half possession. Manuel Pellegrini was boasting in the match programme about his side having scored 18 goals in the previous four home games and at half-time he must have been demanding to know where the attacking desire had gone.

Early in the second half, Pellegrini made the obvious change, sending on Sterling in place of Iheanacho. The 19- year-old had not looked out of place on his first Premier League start: just prior to his withdrawal he had created an opening for Bony that Bassong had to be alert to snuff out, though, between them the front pair were not really giving Norwich too much to think about. Sterling on the left wing and De Bruyne moved inside seemed a better plan, though when the former broke away following a corner he found himself way ahead of his team-mates in charging up the field.

These are the sort of games in which Toure usually steps up to make a difference, though the Ivorian was not having one of his more influential afternoons and when the breakthrough came it was straightforward. Norwich must have been kicking themselves. De Bruyne swung over a corner in one of his last acts before being substituted and Nicolas Otamendi rose unchallenged to nod firmly past Ruddy. It was all a bit anti-climactic really, after all the goals that had rained in during October, though the City supporters were glad enough of it by the 67th minute. No one had any idea then of the late drama to follow.


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