Thursday, October 28, 2004

Second time lucky

When old boy Darren Huckerby's second half penalty hit the back of the net we could have been forgiven for fearing a repeat of the debacle that was the league fixture against Norwich at the end of August.

On that occasion we were 2-0 up and cruising against a side struggling to find a foothold in Premiership football, only to slump into complacency in the second half and allow the spirited Canaries to mount an unlikely comeback and snatch a well-deserved point.

Thankfully, though, this time we managed to hold out and get the win merited by our dominance in terms of possession and chances.

Souness took the decision to shuffle his pack, with only Bernard, Robert and Jenas remaining from Sunday's starting line-up against Man City. Ronny Johnsen made his debut, Bramble returned from injury to partner him in central defence, and Milner, Ambrose (in central midfield), Harper, Hughes and Ameobi were all granted the opportunity to impress, the latter playing up front with the fit-again Kluivert.

Jenas it was, though, who got us off to a perfect start barely 70 seconds into the game, forcing the ball over the line after Robert's wicked low corner had caused panic in the six yard area.

After that, we created chances aplenty but were just unable to convert them into goals. Robert's delivery from set pieces continually gave the Norwich defence problems, but they held out until just before half-time.

The second goal, when it came, owed much to the half's two other star performers. Kluivert, who showed some beautiful touches in and around the penalty area, backheeled the ball into the path of the onrushing Ambrose who went down under a challenge. Our third penalty in successive games - not absolutely stonewall, granted, but there was contact - and the impressive Ameobi stepped up to send Green the wrong way.

Into the second half, though, and it was the lanky striker's clumsy challenge on Mattias Svensson that handed Huckerby the chance to get his side back in the game. Though we eased off when we should have continued to go for the jugular, and Norwich struck the bar with a fine header, we still created enough opportunities to have put the game firmly beyond the Canaries' reach.

Our reward for the win is a home tie in the Fourth Round against Chelsea, to be played in a fortnight's time. Souness can rest assured that if we don't take our chances in that game - and we probably won't get many - then we'll most likely be once again dumped out of a cup competition that we're perfectly capable of winning.

A final word on the crowd. As pointed out, at over 42,000 our attendance was over 30,000 higher than that of the Smoggies down the road - who, lest we forget, are the current cupholders and owe their much-trumpeted first foray into Europe to this competition.


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