Norwich stand firm to further dent Manchester City's faltering title bid …
Manchester City’s title aspirations slipped further in a goalless draw at Carrow Road which did little to boost Norwich’s hopes of Barclays Premier League survival.
Manuel Pellegrini had said the visitors would need to win at least nine of their remaining 10 games to win the title, so victory at Norwich was a must.
But it was Alex Neil’s relegation-threatened side who came closest to scoring as Patrick Bamford hit the crossbar in the first half.
The point was just Norwich’s second in 10 games and the clean sheet was their first since their most recent win, over Southampton at the turn of the year, while City are nine points behind leaders Leicester.
City now turn their attentions to Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg with Dynamo Kiev and next Sunday’s Premier League derby with Manchester United.
For teams with title aspirations, victory at relegation candidates Norwich should be a formality. It was anything but for City, whose only half-decent performer was Sergio Aguero.
John Ruddy dealt unconvincingly with a free-kick from Aguero, who then shot narrowly wide across goal.
The Argentina striker next ran at the Norwich defence and Ruddy made a sharp save to his right.
Norwich were set up not to concede, having last claimed a clean sheet on January 2. A 3-0 FA Cup third-round loss to City at Carrow Road was the first fixture of that 11-game run, but the visitors showed nothing like the same cutting edge this time around.
On loan Chelsea striker Bamford came close to upsetting City on his first start.
Nicolas Otamendi allowed the ball to bounce and Bamford waited patiently for it to drop.
Once it settled, he sweetly swung his left-foot and the result was a 25-yard volley which Joe Hart watched hit his crossbar.
That effort and a tackle by Jonny Howson on Aguero seemed to galvanise Norwich. Matt Jarvis, who switched to the right when Nathan Redmond limped off with what appeared to be a calf problem, next went close.
Jarvis’ deflected shot looped just wide and referee Jon Moss ruled there was no time to take the resulting corner, much to Gary O’Neil’s annoyance.
O’Neil was a nuisance throughout. The midfielder was one of a number of Norwich players who made a habit of bundling David Silva to ground as agricultural won over cultured play.
Still Aguero was City’s most threatening player, yet his efforts were not matched by team-mates.
The anonymous Wilfried Bony was replaced by Raheem Sterling and Aguero became the attacking focal point.
He tumbled into the area after running at Tim Klose, but Moss was correct in adjudging the foul to have taken place outside the area.
Silva’s free-kick went into the wall. It summed up City’s efforts.
Dorrans shot wide for Norwich and Aguero blasted over as he tried to find an 88th-minute winner, but even he could not prevent the stalemate.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
“Tremendous point for Norwich. Clean sheet v City real achievement and stops rot, shows players up for fight.” – BT Sport Football commentator Ian Darke points out the significance of the point Norwich gained as they battle relegation.
John Ruddy: 7 (out of 10)
Russell Martin: 6
Martin Olsson: 6
Ryan Bennett: 6
Tim Klose: 7
Jonny Howson: 7
Gary O’Neil: 6
Nathan Redmond: 6
Patrick Bamford: 6
Wes Hoolahan: 5
Matt Jarvis: 6
Graham Dorrans (for Redmond, 44 minutes): 6
Dieumerci Mbokani (for Hoolahan, 67): 6
Cameron Jerome (for Bamford, 67): 6
Joe Hart: 6
Bacary Sagna: 6
Gael Clichy: 6
Vincent Kompany: 7
Nicolas Otamendi: 6
Jesus Navas: 5
Wilfried Bony: 5
Sergio Aguero: 8
David Silva: 6
Raheem Sterling (for Bony, 58): 6
Kelechi Iheanacho (for Navas, 77): 6
Pablo Zabaleta (for Sagna, 85): 6
The Argentina striker’s quality shone in an otherwise disappointing display from a team whose title aspirations slipped.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Joe Hart could only watch as on loan Chelsea striker Bamford’s sweetly struck volley hit the bar.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Norwich made four changes after the loss at Swansea, with two enforced following injuries to Robbie Brady and Steven Naismith. The Canaries were set up to be difficult to break down, but even when Redmond was on they lacked the incisiveness to cause the visitors trouble on the counter attack. City made one change, following their 4-0 defeat of Aston Villa, with the injured Yaya Toure replaced by Fernando.
Sterling and Iheanacho did not have the desired impact off the bench as the match ended in a stalemate.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Manchester City arrived with Pellegrini calling for nine wins from 10 games. Dropped points at Carrow Road would not have been on his mind, but his side’s performance, with the exception of Aguero, was lacklustre and half-hearted.
WHO’S UP NEXT
West Brom v Norwich (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, March 19)
Manchester City v Dynamo Kiev (Champions League last-16 second leg, Tuesday, March 15)
Norwich manager Alex Neil said on Sky Sports 1: “I think in terms of effort and endeavour for the players, I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Neil believes Norwich, Sunderland and Newcastle are battling it out between them for survival in the Premier League but takes comfort that the two north-east teams still have to go to Carrow Road.
“Looking at the table, they seem to be the three teams involved in it now,” he said.
“Certainly at the moment we just want to try and be above the teams in and about us, and the other two teams that are there just now.
“We’ve got it in our own hands; we’ve got the two relegation rivals to come here. If we can put on a performance and make sure we win those two games it gives us a strong position to go from.”
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart felt his side did not deserve to come away with a victory.
He said: “I think myself and (Norwich goalkeeper) John Ruddy could have had the afternoon off today, so disappointing result for us.
“You’ve got to give credit to Norwich, they defended with numbers and changed the team a little bit today.
It’s worked for them but I’m not really bothered about what they do, it’s about what we do and we weren’t good enough today.
“I don’t think we were good enough to win it if I’m honest.”