Norwich fall to 10-man City in a festive thriller

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Anthony Pilkington scores from a free-kick to reduce the deficit against Manchester CityPA PhotosAnthony Pilkington scores from a free-kick to reduce the deficit

Games between these two cities should come with a government health warning. Carrow Road was the backdrop for the third part of a breathless trilogy to rival Harry Potter.

- Curtis: Feasting at Delia's house
- Man City win thriller at Norwich

Last season at the Etihad Norwich went down 5-1 and Manchester City romped to a 6-1 Premier League win on their last visit to Norfolk. However, the goal count was the only recognisable similarity in a quite remarkable festive encounter.

Roberto Mancini's men were two up inside five minutes through Edin Dzeko. Norwich replied when Anthony Pilkington's free kick brushed Gael Clichy to deceive the stranded Joe Hart. A game already high on adrenaline threatened to catch fire when Samir Nasri was red carded for an intended head butt two minutes before the interval, after taking exception to Sebastien Bassong's stiff challenge, which earned the Norwich defender a yellow.

Bassong refused to back down when Nasri met him head to head looking for instant retribution, but television replays clearly demonstrated the Frenchman's aggressive intent which was flagged up by the assistant with a front row view.

Down to 10, Mancini's champions responded magnificently. Sergio Aguero continued his personal crusade with a fourth goal against the Canaries in his last three tussles, when he outstripped Bassong to calmly lift over the advancing Mark Bunn barely five minutes after the restart.

Chris Hughton's fighters might struggle to bridge the class divide but they displayed equal reserves of character to respond again. Defender Russell Martin was the unlikely source of a threatened comeback when he glanced home Bassong's far post flick to reduce the arrears.

With Hughton and Mancini increasingly frenetic figures on the touchline and a raucous Carrow Road sell out amplifying the drama, Dzeko rifled the visitors back into a two-goal lead - although the big man was denied a hat-trick when Bunn was adjudged to have got the final touch to his close-range angled hit.

Martin remarkably edged Norwich back in touching distance with a clinical stab past Joe Hart from close range, to re-direct Bradley Johnson's initial wayward hit.

The wily Blues frantically tried to run the clock down with keep ball in the corners and some judiciously slow exits for subbed scorers Dzeko and Aguero. Five minutes of injury time only added to the sense of occasion as the rain swept across this part of Norfolk, but Mancini's men held on.

The Italian greeted the final whistle with a fist pumped salute. For a squad and a manager so heavily criticised in recent times and fresh from that Boxing Day reverse at Sunderland it must feel like a defining moment in City's season.

Norwich's players were applauded off by a home crowd who recognised the graft and honest endeavour that had kept the Canaries in an exhilarating contest. But when the dust settles the bald facts will show a third consecutive festive loss by the odd goal.

Hughton spoke recently about falling the wrong side of fine margins. Norwich badly need a result at West Ham on New Year's Day just to propel the club back in a forward direction. They will get plenty of plaudits for their fresh efforts here in the days to come, but it is points that will decide their Premier League fate.

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