Norwich saved by Forster and luckless Rovers

Norwich City 2 Tranmere Rovers 0: On-loan goalkeeper keeps hard-working Tranmere at bay as Parry's men fall to a controversial penalty
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Three years ago, when he was still the club physiotherapist, Tranmere's caretaker manager, Les Parry, released a Christmas record. Sung to the tune of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," it was called "I'm Les 'the white legs' Parry", a reference to his insistence on wearing shorts in all weathers. It sold all 3,000 copies in two days, but, given what has happened since, including missing out on last season's play-offs to a late goal in the final match, employing John Barnes, and then being as unlucky as they were yesterday, Tranmere have surely been punished enough.

For an hour they out-thought and for the most part out-played high-flying Norwich, only for the home team to be effectively handed the game by a penalty decision which even the most one-eyed City fan would have to admit was generous.

A more objective observer might describe it as appalling. The ritual chorus of "Handball!" notwithstanding, referee Darren Deadman was probably the only person in a packed Carrow Road to think Adam Drury's rising shot shortly before the hour had hit John Welsh anywhere near his forearm, let alone his hand.

"It wasn't a penalty, but it was because the ref gave it," sighed Parry. "I have to be careful what I say because I'm still on a physio's wage. If I'm fined, the kids don't eat."

It took time for both teams to adjust to the slickness of the soaked surface, a period during which Rovers came closest to opening the scoring when Chris Shuker fired a shot which the Norwich goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, had to dive to save to his right.

Forster, on loan from Newcastle United, had to make a save from Ryan Fraughan midway through the half, City having enjoyed plenty of possession in the meantime. But City showed few signs of having the wit to play their way through Rovers' five-man midfield, let alone get behind their back line.

Tranmere's goalkeeper, Luke Daniels, hadn't had a save to make, which nonplussed rather than angered a packed Carrow Road, though the mood might have changed had Shuker not delayed after Rovers worked an opportunity on the half hour, giving Jens Berthel Askou enough time to block.

Shortly before half-time, Paul McLaren broke up field and picked out Shuker in the penalty area to his right. Instead of shooting the winger crossed low and, with McLaren ready to turn the ball home, Gary Doherty stretched out a desperate foot. An own goal seemed the certain result only for Forster, scrambling to his right, to pull off a remarkable save.

City were equally fortunate to survive the following corner, Ian Goodison lifting the bouncing ball over the bar from no more than four yards.

The sight of Wes Hoolahan attempting to beat Daniels from 45 yards at the start of the second half was hardly encouraging for the home supporters as Tranmere continued to look the more impressive team. One lovely passing move saw Shuker exchange passes with Craig Curran and Michael Ricketts before shooting against the outside of Forster's right-hand post. But then came the penalty, expertly converted by Hoolahan. Deflated, and forced to push forward in numbers, Tranmere conceded a second when Gary Doherty turned Hoolahan's low cross beyond Daniels.

Norwich have now lost only one of their past 12 matches, and that unluckily at Leeds. "You take the decisions that come your way because sometimes they go against you," shrugged the manager, Paul Lambert. "Fraser's save was world class though. You'd have to ask the money men whether his loan can be extended, but he could have a big career ahead of him."