It would have been cruel if West Ham United had been the team to deal a fatal blow to Norwich City's imperilled manager Chris Hughton, an EastEnder who once served them as a diligent full-back. At half-time that appeared a strong possibility as the Norfolk side, already in the bottom three of the Premier League, had been outplayed and were a goal down. By dint of a spirited and far more composed second half performance, however, they came up with an unlikely victory to end a bad run.
After some mild booing at half-time, the home crowd stayed with them, appreciating the spirit shown, and now Hughton can be more confident of his employment prospects ahead of a trip to another former club, Newcastle United, where he was prematurely sacked in 2010; it is to St James's Park that Norwich go next, following the international break.
“Sometimes when you're on a run like we are, there's a little bit of nervousness,” Hughton said, “but we were certainly able to raise it in the second half. We needed to get about them a little bit more and show more urgency to press them. We got a very, very good reaction.”
Despite conceding 14 goals in defeats to Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea - the seven that went past John Ruddy at the Etihad last weekend comprised the club's worst defeat for 75 years - Hughton restricted himself to three changes, dropping Sebastien Bassong, Bradley Johnson and Steven Whittaker while giving Gary Hooper extra support in attack with Johan Elmander. Sam Allardyce also had two forwards, the difference being that his were initially left shivering in the substitutes' seats. Not until West Ham went behind did Carlton Cole appear, for until that unexpected change in the pattern of play, their new striker-light system was working rather well.
Once again Kevin Nolan was the nominal centre forward, with Stewart Downing and Joe Cole out wide. Behind them Mark Noble was as busy and committed as ever, especially when feeding the adventurous left-back Razvan Rat. That was how the opening goal materialised.
With the London side having scored eight goals in ten games and Norwich only six, expectation was of scraps rather than a feast. Scrappy the play was for much of the first half, although West Ham deservedly ended it in front.
Rat had the first chance, shooting wide, although play was pulled back for a foul on Nolan, Downing wasting the free-kick. Ruddy, promised a second England cap in the next ten days, then had to save from Nolan with his legs, and from Cole's subsequent corner the goalkeeper pushed Guy Demel's header over the bar.
A goal finally arrived after Noble played a shrewd pass inside the full-back for Rat, Russell Martin again allowing the Romanian too much room. Nolan, who may have drifted offside, could not turn in the low cross but it fell perfectly for Ravel Morrison to tap home.
Norwich had already decided to send on Nathan Redmond for the limping Pilkington and he was needed as they attempted to take the game to the visitors for the first time. Not that the equaliser owed anything to the craft and flair associated with the England Under-21 international. It came after Ryan Bennett hit a hopeful ball towards goal and James Collins headed it up in the air. Jaaskelainen seemed to have possession but lost it under pressure from Michael Turner and brought down Hooper, who hammered - if the visitors will pardon the expression - the penalty kick back past him.
“It was such a big error by Jussi,” said an unforgiving Allardyce, “it preyed on their minds.” There was worse to come. With 20 minutes left, West Ham lost possession to Jonny Howson, whose dipping drive from 25 yards came back off the bar. Collins bumped into Robert Snodgrass while challenging for the rebound and the Norwich midfielder curled the resulting free-kick perfectly over the wall and past Jaaskelainen.
Norfolk tails were up. Hooper had a good effort saved and Elmander and then Snodgrass wasted chances before Leroy Fer broke onto a loose ball to confirm a first win since September, taking Norwich above West Ham to a welcome 15th place in the table.
“I hope it's the win that changes our season,” Hughton said. “We were in a similar position last season and the win over Arsenal changed our fortunes.” For Allardyce, fortune is still hiding.Reuse content