Goalless draws are the flotsam of football; they drift by and are lost in the ocean of events. This one was greeted with a vast rolling cheer, the kind that comes with championship-deciding performances. It would be greeted by a thin smile in the manager’s office at Stamford Bridge. This has been quite a week for Jose Mourinho.
There was no backlash by the Manchester City side Chelsea had overcome on Monday night. Manuel Pellegrini had to dress up the season’s most surprising stalemate as a well-earned point by a squad that is becoming increasingly stretched by injury. He was still able to put £150m worth of footballers on to the pitch. As he travelled back to Manchester, the City manager must have wondered whether the FA would take any action against Yaya Touré who lashed out at Ricky van Wolfswinkel in the closing stages of a match whose frustrations threatened to overwhelm his team.
It was not hard to understand why. In the five times these clubs have met since Norwich won promotion in 2011, City had scored 24 times. The last encounter, in November, had seen them thrashed 7-0. A 6-1 win here two years ago had given Roberto Mancini’s side the momentum to elbow their way past Manchester United to snatch the title.
They were the Canaries, Manchester City were the cat and the cage door was always open. In the wake of Liverpool’s dismemberment of Arsenal, this was an opportunity that was too obvious to squander.
By the end, they were grateful for a point. Such is the derision directed towards Van Wolfswinkel, who has managed one goal since his £8.5m signing from Sporting Lisbon, that when he was brought on the crowd began chanting: “If he scores, we’re on the pitch.” There was very nearly an invasion.
With time dripping away, Nathan Redmond sent the ball flashing across the face of Joe Hart’s goal. Van Wolfswinkel, rushing in, only had to touch the ball to wash away six months of failure. He missed by inches. Moments later, Anthony Pilkington shot over the bar.
The highest-scoring team in the Premier League had only one glaring opportunity. A corner from Jesus Navas was flicked by Martin Demichelis into the kind of place from which Alvaro Negredo does not miss. It was a free header a few yards out and it flew through John Ruddy’s gloves and clattered against the crossbar.
A few minutes later, the striker they call ‘The Beast’ thrashed a curling shot into the side-netting. Stevan Jovetic, who in Sergio Aguero’s absence might be expected to add edge to an already brutal City attack, forced a fine low save from Ruddy. For all their possession and their territorial dominance, that was pretty much that.
This time, Pellegrini did not repeat his failed experiment of employing Demichelis as a makeshift midfielder as he had against Chelsea. James Milner, who should have been employed in that role at the Etihad, did so now and proved rather more effective.
Aside from creating what ought to have been Manchester City’s opener, the Argentine’s most obvious intervention was to hurl himself wildly to the floor as Gary Hooper threatened to run past him. He drew the foul and, quite rightly, drew the abuse.
Three months ago, in the wake of the 7-0 humbling in Manchester, Chris Hughton had stood in a corridor at the Etihad Stadium and argued why he should keep his job as Norwich manager. He had to defend a performance from Sébastien Bassong that had been gratingly awful.
They were playing West Ham next and, had it been lost, Hughton would not have survived. Yesterday, Bassong, wearing the armband, held his defence together with studied coolness. West Ham are up again on Tuesday night. Norwich’s captain and his manager will go into the game as vindicated men.
Norwich City (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Martin, Yobo, Bassong, Olsson; Tettey, Johnson, Pilkington (Whittaker, 90), Fer; Redmond; Hooper (Van Wolfswinkel, 68).
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Touré, Milner; Navas, Jovetic (Dzeko, 61), Silva; Negredo (Kolarov, 77).
Referee: Jon Moss
Man of the match: Bassong (Norwich)
Match rating: 7/10