Central defender Ryan Bennett did what none of his team’s attackers had looked capable of doing and scored the late winner that should keep Norwich City manager Chris Hughton in work for another week or two at least. The club’s chief executive, David McNally, had made that contingent on the Canaries staying out of the bottom three, and yesterday’s victory over Hull City, though their first win in 10 matches, was enough to lift them to 12th place.
Hull, jointly with Stoke City the Premier League’s worst performers on the road, began brightly and ended with midfielder Tom Huddlestone red-carded. But this game was really all about the Norwich manager.
A web poll taken by the local Eastern Daily Press before the game had 43 per cent of fans calling for Hughton to be sacked even if Norwich won; only 22 per cent felt he should stay whatever yesterday’s outcome. Yet there were no audible protests against him and Hughton said afterwards: “It’s been a difficult time. We haven’t been getting the results we wanted and considering we didn’t score for a long time today the crowd were excellent.”
Hughton gamely shrugged off the pressure he has undoubtedly been under, saying: “It’s never nice when there’s a lot of criticism around but it’s part and parcel of the game. Next week maybe it’ll be somebody else. The good thing about football is that the next challenge always comes around very quickly.”
The disaffected voices would have been heard had Hull’s Nikica Jelavic been just a foot more accurate in the second minute with a shot that clipped the post. “On another day that’d nestle in the net and what a wonderful start that would’ve been for the lad,” said Steve Bruce, the manager who signed him this week from Everton.
It may be harsh to blame Hughton’s plight on one man, but it was a telling statistic that Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the much-trumpeted record signing who was supposed to answer Norwich’s scoring woes, had managed just four attempts on target in 12 Premier League games before the match. Make that four in 13.
Three times in the first half he went close – or close to going close – each time set up by Robert Snodgrass and each time failing through a lack of physical presence or conviction. Having invested so much in him, both faith and cash, Hughton really needed him to do a lot better.
Largely on account of injuries to one or the other, this was the first time Van Wolfswinkel and the summer’s other new striker Gary Hooper had started a League game together at home. Evidence that it can ever become a partnership is still awaited.
We must wait to see, too, how Hull’s new strike pair blend because Shane Long’s debut was delayed by an ankle injury; but Jelavic alone looked more of a threat than anything Norwich could muster, the admirable winger Snodgrass excepted.
The game’s other debutant, loanee Jonas Gutierrez, gave Norwich what he has always given Newcastle United – hard work, a few bright dribbles, scant end product. Which also happens to be a fair summary of Norwich’s performance, indeed their season.
As is their wont at home, though, the Canaries finished with a crescendo and were rewarded when Bennett leapt highest to head a Snodgrass corner home at the far post.
The frustration of Hull, who seemed to have long settled for a point, boiled over two minutes later when Huddlestone was dismissed for a second yellow card offence.
Bruce had no complaints; Huddlestone will miss next weekend’s FA Cup tie at Southend – no big deal, perhaps.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Ruddy; Martin, R Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Snodgrass, Fer, Johnson, Gutierrez (Pilkington, 68); Van Wolfswinkel (Becchio, 79), Hooper.
Hull City (3-5-2): McGregor; Chester (Figueroa, 15), Bruce, Davies; Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Koren (Fryatt, 82), Rosenior; Sagbo (Boyd, 67), Jelavic.
Referee: Howard Webb.
Man of the match: Snodgrass (Norwich)
Match rating: 3/10Reuse content