Yet another title was celebrated at Old Trafford yesterday as Lancashire paraded the County Championship cricket trophy around the pitch before kick-off, and if Manchester United can win while playing as poorly as they did yesterday then the Premier League version is surely destined to follow it at the end of the season. United played well below their best but still set a club record of 19 successive home League wins.
United supporters expecting normal service to resume after last week's dropped points in The Potteries and against Basle would have been disappointed. Sir Alex Ferguson had called Tuesday's 3-3 draw in the Champions' League a wake-up call but United dozed in the unseasonal sun for most of the match, rousing themselves briefly in the second half to score twice through Anderson and Danny Welbeck and remain ahead of Manchester City at the top of the table.
"You couldn't say that was a good performance," Ferguson said. "But it was gritty, determined – as we always are – and we never gave in, which is a fantastic quality, and we remain undefeated at home."
Norwich City played well but were let down by poor finishing. Wayne Rooney alone, with nine League goals, has scored more than the entire Norwich team this season, and yesterday they missed a superb chance to take the lead, hit the post when only 1-0 down, and ended up joining the long list of teams to leave Old Trafford wondering, "What if?"
Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager, recognised the reality of what had happened. "We played well, had chances but you can't keep them out for 90 minutes," he said. "You switch off for a millisecond and you get hurt. If you come to places like this and make chances you've got to take them. I'm gutted for the players for the way they played and their effort."
Ferguson had benched David de Gea and Rio Ferdinand in favour of Anders Lindegaard, who made his Premier League debut, and the returning Jonny Evans, while Ashley Young was rested with a knock, although it is not expected to keep him from England duty.
Both Ferdinand and De Gea had had testing weeks – Ferdinand had lost a court battle for damages against a newspaper, and De Gea was detained in a supermarket after allegedly eating a doughnut without paying for it. Ferguson said he had rested De Gea because he faced two matches for the Spain Under-21 team.
Norwich began confidently, their yellow-and-green colours making them look like an 11-man anti-Glazer protest that had somehow sneaked past security and on to the field. Steve Morison, mostly alone up front, made life as difficult as he could for Phil Jones and Evans, but Norwich spent most of the first half defending in numbers, giving United little space.
United still made chances, Marc Tierney clearing after Darren Fletcher escaped his marker to flick Nani's corner goalwards, but the home side struggled to find any fluency, and were jeered by the Norwich fans for refusing to return the ball to their side when Nani, who was having a frustrating afternoon against Tierney, went down in a heap.
Instead of stepping up a gear in the second half, United were even more lax, misplacing passes under little pressure, Nani one of the worst culprits, and Norwich began to fashion chances. Morison got past Evans and set off for goal with Wes Hoolahan up alongside him only for Jones to drive him wide of goal and then block his intended pass. Then Lindegaard made an alert save from Anthony Pilkington's deflected shot.
After 66 minutes, Pilkington made and missed the chance of the match, robbing Antonio Valencia and advancing into the penalty area with only Lindegaard to beat but rolling his shot wide of the far post.
How costly was it? Two minutes later, the substitute Ryan Giggs took a corner on the left, Jones nodded the ball back, Rooney helped it on and Anderson headed past John Ruddy from four yards.
City were not finished, and Pilkington tried his luck again, his shot looping off Anderson, past Lindegaard, off the post and back to the goalkeeper. Morison then produced something that was neither a pass nor a shot when clear on the left. With three minutes left, United showed how it was done. Park Ji-Sung set up Danny Welbeck, another substitute, to distort the score still further.
"We controlled the game, but counterattacks could have hurt us," a clearly relieved Ferguson said. "There was an incredible chance for them but he's knocked it wide and it was a break for us. And once they went down they continued to have a go."
Manchester United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Valencia, Jones, Evans, Evra; Nani (Giggs, 65), Fletcher, Anderson (Ferdinand, 77), Park; Rooney, Hernandez (Welbeck, 65).
Norwich City (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Naughton, Barnett, Martin, Tierney; Bennett (Crofts, 72), Fox (Jackson, 72), Johnson, Pilkington; Hoolahan (Martin, 85); Morison.
Referee Stuart Attwell.
Man of the match Pilkington (Norwich)Reuse content