Gary Hooper’s splendid strike was worth at least the point it earned Norwich City on Sunday: everyone could agree about that. Whether the injury to Swansea’s scorer Nathan Dyer, carried off with a suspected broken ankle shortly before half-time, was as much of a game-changer was a more vexed question.
The answer provided by Norwich manager Chris Hughton was initially blunt: “No.” He then elaborated slightly: “The answer is you just don’t know. Most times a break in the game tends to favour the away team.”
That was clearly not the case in this instance. “It changed the game in two ways,” said Hughton’s opposite number, Michael Laudrup. “Tactically, we lost our main threat, running at the heart of their defence.”
And then, he suggested, there was the emotional impact on his players of seeing a team-mate badly hurt.
“People get injured every game, but when you see people get carried out [it affects everyone],” Laudrup said. “We don’t know how bad it is, but everyone could see it was not good. The team had 10 minutes when we weren’t good.”
It was in those 10 minutes that Hooper struck. Dyer will have an MRI scan today to determine just how bad the injury is. It ended what Laudrup called “a difficult week” in which Swansea have played three matches in seven days. “Looking on the positive,” he said, “we’ve reached 20 points with three games to go to the halfway point of the season.”
That points haul and their league position – 10th – is coincidentally exactly what Norwich would have achieved had they won, which they came close to doing on a couple of occasions in the second half.
The key moments in the game, both in the first half, involved aerial challenges between Norwich defender Sébastien Bassong and the diminutive Dyer. In the 12th minute Dyer outjumped the bigger man to flick on a long up-and-under from Ashley Williams, turned swiftly to sprint away from him and deftly chipped the oncoming Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy.
Dyer’s celebration suggested a call for a DRS review, but there was no doubt about the quality or validity of his finish, only the ineptitude of the defending, Bassong and Ruddy surprised by the unexpected direct assault.
After 39 minutes Bassong, keen not to be caught out by him again, dominated Dyer in meeting a falling ball on the halfway line, and came down on top of him. No blame attached to Bassong, but with Dyer prone and in obvious pain, the game was held up for five minutes, at the culmination of which Alejandro Pozuelo took his place.
Norwich began to play with the sense of purpose they had previously been lacking and three minutes into the extended period of added time they drew level.
A long ball forward from right-back by Steven Whittaker was headed down by Johan Elmander; Hooper’s first touch was with his chest, his second a fiercely hit dipping volley that flew over Michel Vorm from almost 30 yards. “It was,” said Hughton, stating the obvious, “a very special goal.”
Laudrup remarked wryly: “Maybe he could have waited a week to score a goal like that.”
Moments before it, Williams had headed a close-range Leroy Fer flick out from under the bar, so Norwich might even have been ahead at the break, which would have been a travesty of a first half dominated by the Welsh side’s confident passing game.
Norwich had no one with the vision of Jonjo Shelvey or the industry of Jonathan de Guzman; their dithering indecision in possession was indicative of how much they are missing the injured wide men Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington. Nathan Redmond was effectively asked to deputise for both of them, and though he showed plenty of willing he eventually succumbed, almost inevitably, to exhaustion.
An entertaining second half boiled down to a contest between Swansea quality and Norwich passion. Passion nearly won out when a header by Michael Turner struck the crossbar then ricocheted over it off the unwitting head of Jordi Amat; and again when Vorm made an outstanding one-handed diving save to deny Hooper. Quality was frustrated in the closing moments when Ruddy saved at close range from Shelvey.
Norwich City: (4-4-1-1) Ruddy 6; Whittaker 7, Turner 7, Bassong 5, Olsson 6; Redmond 6 (Murphy, 83), Howson 6, Johnson 7, Fer 6; Elmander 6 (Becchio, 76); Hooper 7.
Substitutes: Nash, Martin, Hoolahan, Garrido, R Bennett.
Swansea City: (4-5-1) Vorm 7; Rangel 6, Amat 7, Williams 7, Davies 7; Dyer 8 (Pozuelo, 44, 6), Shelvey 7, De Guzman 8, Canas 6, Hernandez 6 (Lamah, 83); Michu 7 (Bony, 75).
Substitutes: Tremmel, Taylor, Routledge, Tiendalli.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: De Guzman (Swansea)
Match rating: 6/10