Norwich relish proving Premier League doubters wrong

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Anthony Pilkington celebrates after putting Norwich in front at Manchester CityGettyImagesAnthony Pilkington celebrates after putting Norwich in front at Manchester City

Norwich displayed a penchant for the show-stopping scene stealer with a superb Premier League finale at Manchester City on Sunday.

Chris Hughton's men emulated champions Manchester United in becoming only the second team to triumph at the Etihad in the league this season with a thrilling 3-2 win they fully merited.

Goals were traded like blows between two evenly-match boxers until Jonny Howson's sublime burst took him past four retreating Blues defenders before a calm roll underneath the advancing Joe Hart. The Canaries led twice through Anthony Pilkington and Grant Holt, only to be pegged back through Jack Rodwell’s quality brace, the young England man's first goals for his latest club. It really was one of those afternoons where anything felt possible.

Few would have given Norwich any chance of staging such a vibrant encore to last weekend's Premier League romp over West Brom which secured a third consecutive season in the top flight. That is how fine the margins have been for the Canaries in a second half of the campaign defined by struggle and stress which ended in the glorious uplift of two wins and a first FA Youth Cup triumph in 30 years.

Manchester City’s sluggish urgings until Howson’s winner captured the air of resignation around the stadium in the first home outing since Roberto Mancini’s sour exit and a humbling FA Cup defeat to Wigan. The Blues’ never remotely threatened to match Norwich’s desire and work rate. Sergio Aguero’s second-half entrance pepped up a lacklustre home attack but John Ruddy remained well-protected.

Norwich could even afford the luxury of resting newly crowned player-of-the-season Sebastien Bassong at the heart of their backline. The Cameroon international has managed a troublesome knee problem over recent months, but shorn of both the muscular Parisian and regular first choice Michael Turner, Norwich were still capable of repelling the Blues.

Only Rodwell had the answers to pierce a resolute visiting defence. The first was a flashing first-time strike guided beyond Ruddy before a superbly athletic burst from the halfway line and a clinical strike across Ruddy. Pilkington's opener had nestled in the same corner to burst the dam before Holt’s predatory instincts snaffled Robert Snodgrass’ inviting cross shortly after the interval. All four goals paled in brilliance to Howson’s winner; a finish fit to grace any contest. Holt serviced the midfielder 2 yards inside his own half before a burst took him free and a composed roll beyond the advancing Hart sealed the victory.

Howson has visibly grown under Hughton's tutelage this season. The undoubted attacking instincts have been harnessed in the defensive pattern that underpinned Norwich's attempts at survival. This goal after his fantastic hit that sealed safety against the Baggies hints at a growth and a development right across Hughton’s squad that can only bode well when hostilities are renewed after the summer. Hughton and his players have deserved their rest.

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