Ultimately, it did not matter who kept goal for Manchester City. Joe Hart could have done it, Joe Corrigan could have done it. The club could in a gesture of goodwill have offered an oversized green shirt to Joseph Blatter and asked the doddery leader of world football to keep Norwich at bay for an hour and a half. He would still have had a single shot to save.
You couldn’t quite say the same of Hart’s principal rival as England’s goalkeeper. There was little reason for Roy Hodgson to have attended this game – Manchester City did not start with a single Englishman. However, he would have seen John Ruddy endure a tortured, tortuous afternoon.
Some might think that a hard, Machiavellian side of Hart might have enjoyed seeing Ruddy concede seven times but the stories of a goalkeeper’s union are not part of a sepia era of the Daily Sketch and the News Chronicle. When Tim Howard scored straight from a goal-kick for Everton against Bolton, he issued a heartfelt apology to Adam Bogdan. He understood the humiliation instinctively.
Manuel Pellegrini, the man who had dropped him, was generous in his assessment of Hart’s prospects, suggesting he might expect to return before the end of the month when Costel Pantilimon’s form would have been rather more sternly tested.
Ruddy did make a couple of smart saves from Jesus Navas and Martin Demichelis but the big electronic scoreboard was already showing 6‑0 and there was a turn and shot from Edin Dzeko to come that would make this Manchester City’s biggest win in the Premier League. Not since a 10-1 win over Huddersfield in 1987 have they enjoyed a wider margin of victory. In a single afternoon Norwich conceded more goals than they have scored all season.
Ruddy was sometimes given pitiful protection. For Manchester City’s sixth, David Silva, who was as inventive here as he had been at Newcastle in the League Cup, delivered a low cross. To explain the commitment of Sebastien Bassong’s clearance you would have to imagine the defender with his hands in his pockets. Sergio Aguero devoured the ball as it dribbled towards him.
It is hard to imagine how Chris Hughton can survive much more of this. At the end, the Norwich manager stood in the rain applauding those who for the second time in a week had the long return from Manchester to Norfolk in front of them.
The last time Norwich had come here they celebrated survival with a 3-2 win over a Manchester City side that had just lost the FA Cup final, just sacked their manager, Roberto Mancini, and looked a mess. Yesterday, the roles were reversed.
“We have all let the club down and I include myself in that because I pick the side and determine the tactics of the team,” Hughton said. “I have not been on the end of a defeat like that before. I have always had confidence in my ability but I and the players in that changing room need to address this very quickly because we have a game on Saturday against West Ham that becomes a bigger game because of this defeat and the manner of it. We have to prove we were good enough. We were nowhere near that today.”
The blows rained in early. The only one Hughton did not consider Norwich at fault for was Yaya Touré’s free-kick that curled artfully and powerfully into the top corner.
The first looped slowly over the goalkeeper from a combination of the boots of Russell Martin and Bradley Johnson. Then came a long ball from Samir Nasri that found Aguero on the left. He stopped. Bassong expected a cross but the Argentine, pulled the ball back for Silva.
Then came a corner from Nasri that Matija Nastasic headed against Martin’s shoulder and past Ruddy. Then came a low cross from Aguero that Alvaro Negredo met before the sliding boots of Michael Turner. Then came Norwich’s one shot in anger. Then came half-time of a game that had long ago finished. As a contest it was as even as a badger cull and sometimes almost as joyless.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Pantilimon; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Nastasic, Clichy; Toure, Fernandinho Silva (Navas, 73); Nasri (Milner, 70), Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko, h-t).
Norwich City (4-1-4-1): Ruddy; Martin, Turner, Bassong, Olsson; Whittaker (Murphy, h-t); Fer, Johnson, Pilkington, Howson; Hooper (Elmander, h-t).
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the match: David Silva (Manchester City)
Match rating: 6/10