LIVERPOOL // When Norwich City were thrashed 4-1 at Chelsea on October 6th, they were perched precariously in 19th. They had lost their last two games, conceding nine goals, and were yet to win in the league under Chris Hughton. They looked a team with a return ticket to the Championship.
What has happened since then has constituted a remarkably rally. Hughton's side have not lost in their subsequent six matches. A previously porous defence has only been breached twice. They have taken the scalps of Arsenal and Manchester United. And, by claiming a hard-fought point at Goodison Park, they have cemented their position in mid-table.
They trailed for 78 minutes at Goodison Park but the longer they were behind, the better Norwich got. "We showed great character," Hughton said.
A determined revival brought its rightful reward in the 90th minute when Sebastian Bassong met Javier Garrido's curling free kick with a header of such power that, though Tim Howard pushed it out, had already crossed the line before the goalkeeper reached it. In any case, typifying Norwich's determination, captain Grant Holt converted the rebound.
"It was pretty hard to take," said David Moyes, arguing that both Howard and Johnny Heitinga should have done better and that the free kick, given against Leighton Baines, should not have been awarded anyway.
It followed a period of pressure where Robert Snodgrass angled a shot past Howard but not Johnny Heitinga, covering on the goal-line and the Everton goalkeeper made a fine parry to deny Anthony Pilkington.
And where the supposed specialist scorers could not oblige, a defender did. "Bassong has been good from day one," said Hughton.
"He's been part of a defensive unit that have been very good for a period of time."
Indeed, when John Ruddy had to pluck the ball from the back of his net, it was the first time in 345 minutes of league football Norwich had conceded. Bryan Oviedo's cross was converted by Steven Naismith, a scorer for the second successive week. Signed on a free transfer from the now defunct Rangers, he is proof of Moyes' acumen as a bargain hunter.
"I hoped he would come here and get six or eight goals," Moyes said of his summer signing from Rangers.
After five league starts, he already has three. Neither the creator, Oviedo, nor the scorer, Naismith, are in Moyes' strongest side and, when the latter struck, it seemed as though the theory Everton are over-reliant on a handful of key players was about to be debunked.
But as the game progressed, the suspended Marouane Fellaini and the injured Kevin Mirallas were missed more. Moyes has quality but not quantity. "We didn't have an awful lot to alter it," the manager said.
So getting a second goal was vital. Leon Osman had a hat-trick of opportunities and Baines came close after a stunning solo run. But Everton tired and, as Moyes said: "Norwich kept knocking at the door." And eventually they got the answer, and the equaliser, they wanted.
Manchester United 3 QPR 1
Utd: Evans 64’, Fletcher 68’, Hernandez 72’; QPR: Mackie 52’
Harry Redknapp made a strident start to his stint as Queens Park Rangers manager yesterday, blaming the players for the London club being bottom of the Premier League without a win.
The 65-year-old Englishman signed a two-and-a-half-year contract yesterday, just a day after Mark Hughes was sacked for failing to deliver results despite an expensive overhaul of the squad.
“The players have to be at it – the buck stops with them,” Redknapp said. “I know Mark lost his job, but it’s down to the players. He could only do what he could do. The players have not performed to their potential.
“There are some good players here and they really need to step up and start performing. They are man enough to know they’re to blame for the position we are in.”
Redknapp watched the latest defeat from the stands as assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki took charge.
Jamie Mackie had put QPR ahead at Old Trafford, but the West London team failed to secure its first win of the season, with Jonny Evans equalising before Darren Fletcher and Javier Hernandez scored to put United back on the winning path after losing at Norwich City last weekend.
Like so often this season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had to fight back from a losing position.
“It’s not great,” Fletcher said. “The only positive is we keep coming back – we cannot allow it to keep happening.”
United are now two points ahead of Manchester City, but the Premier League champions are at Chelsea today.
Sunderland 2 West Brom 4
Sunderland: Gardner 72’, Sessegnon 86’; WBA: Gera 30’,Long 42’, Lukaku (pen) 79’, Fortune 90+4’
Steve Clarke said his West Brom players will keep grounded despite a fourth consecutive win moving them up to third place. “We are still this side of Christmas, there are a lot of games to be played, a lot of points to be fought for.”
Stoke City 1 Fulham 0
Charlie Adam netted the winner for a second successive Britannia Stadium fixture as Stoke defeated Fulham. The Scotland midfielder turned and finished from close range to register his second goal as a Potters player, having also scored the only goal in the team’s previous home win against QPR. Tony Pulis’s side are now unbeaten at home in 13 matches.
Wigan Athletic 3 Reading 2
Wigan: Gomez 58’, 68’, 90’; Reading: Morrison 35’, Al Habsi (og) 80’
Hat-trick hero Jordi Gomez spared goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi’s blushes with an injury-time winner to earn Wigan three much-needed points against Reading at the DW Stadium. Al Habsi dropped a half-blocked shot from Hal Robson-Kanu on to the bar and the ball then hit him and went in.
Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0
Aston Villa climbed out of the Premier League bottom three with a deserved share of the spoils against Arsene Wenger’s side at Villa Park. Paul Lambert, the home manager, was forced to watch the game from the stands after his one-match ban but would have taken great heart from the way his side performed.
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