Norwich City have nothing to fear from Old Trafford test

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Anders Lindegaard is helpless to stop Anthony Pilkington heading Norwich in front against Man UnitedGettyImagesAnders Lindegaard is helpless to stop Anthony Pilkington heading Norwich in front against Man United

You would have to exhibit masochistic tendencies to be a Premier League opponent who looks forward to a date against champions-elect Manchester United at fortress Old Trafford.

Tottenham remain the only top flight club to earn a point there, let alone inflict a defeat, this season during Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest bid for supremacy over his domestic rivals. Norwich City will travel with no expectation and precious little hope of altering that impressive flow of home form. But they can enjoy their trip to the Theatre of Dreams. The Canaries’ stirring 1-0 home win in the corresponding fixture earlier this season was the last time Ferguson’s men were beaten in the Premier League. That by itself should arm the visitors with a degree of reassurance they can compete again with whoever the Scot elects to risk ahead of next week’s epic Champions League return against Real Madrid. But history is not the only portent to suggest Norwich do not head north as sacrificial lambs.

City’s first win in 10 league games against Everton last weekend, and the manner they snatched those three points, have transformed the mood inside and outside the camp. Each winless week lessened the margin of comfort to the clubs thrashing below them in the table for survival. It also heightened anxiety levels and triggered prolonged bouts of introspection.

Confidence built from a club-record Premier League unbeaten run prior to Christmas had largely evaporated. Four consecutive defeats in the league over the festive period were the precursor to a painful hammering at Anfield and a sorry FA Cup home exit to non-league Luton. Chris Hughton’s methods came in for forensic analysis and criticism. City’s board found themselves under close scrutiny as Norwich’s supporters looked for magic bullets in the January transfer window to spark a group of players who looked to be struggling under the burden of surviving a second season among the biggest and best.

City’s failed pursuit of transfer targets such as Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel merely fanned the flames. The pessimists were beginning to hold sway. But one thing has proved remarkably resistant to sustained attack - Norwich’s collective will to respond. It was self-evident in how they reacted to early season struggles with that long unbeaten surge. It has emerged once again in a recent run of league draws against the likes of Champions League-chasing Tottenham that eventually laid the foundations for a remarkable late comeback against the Toffees.

The dynamic has changed. No more talk of when that first Premier League win since mid-December will arrive. Now the focus can shift to the stirrings of a fresh four-game unbeaten run. The odds of prolonging that appear prohibitively high at United this weekend, but an eight-point cushion to the current bottom three with games rapidly slipping away would appear a fantastic insurance policy for Hughton’s side.

Norwich will be buoyant after victory over Everton and with United’s focus inevitably on ‘Los Blancos’ there really is nothing to fear. And rarely can an opponent say that about a trip to Old Trafford.

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