Man Utd 2-0 Norwich – Red Devils ride their luck as Canaries push the champions all the way

Old Trafford, Manchester
Anderson 68, Welbeck 87

Manchester United eventually fought their way to an unconvincing victory against a plucky Norwich City side that, at times, threatened to take all three points back to Carrow Road. Goals from Anderson and Danny Welbeck gave United a two-goal advantage, yet City manager Paul Lambert will undoubtedly rue Anthony Pilkington’s squandered opportunity while the scores were still level.

While the vast majority (Canaries fans included) would have predicted a United victory beforehand, few would have foreseen such a tightly-contested battle between the two clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson restored Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez to the starting line-up after their respective injury problems. However, the two preferred front men struggled to get into the game as Norwich eagerly closed down United’s midfielders from the off.

With Anderson’s passing off-kilter, the likes of Luis Nani, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung failed to stamp any real authority on the game, while Russell Martin and Leon Barnett in particular appeared to relish the opportunity to play on the Premier League’s biggest stage. United lacked the pinpoint accuracy of a central midfielder that can dictate the tempo against teams that set up defensively at Old Trafford.

However, to say that Norwich were simply defensive would be to do them an injustice, for they arguably created the best chances of the match. The Canaries could have found themselves ahead had they picked the right options offensively, yet a cool head eluded them at vital moments.

With the scores even in the second half, Anthony Pilkington seized upon lax defending from Antonio Valencia to find himself clean through on goal, yet with only Anders Lindegaard to beat, he screwed his finish wide. There was a sense of a real opportunity missed, which United punished to the maximum with Anderson heading in less than three minutes later.

To their credit Norwich did push on after Anderson’s opener, and were nearly level after Pilkington had another shot deflected against the inside of the post by the goal scorer, but United’s superior fitness and know-how won out in the end.

Welbeck combined later on with Park to score a neat goal, and will surely be a contender for a starting place in United’s next game but the real turning point for United was when Ferguson – sensing his players struggling to find a natural rhythm – introduced Welbeck and Giggs for the ineffective Nani and Hernandez. The Welsh winger stretched the game on the left, and Welbeck was involved in more buildup play than the diminutive Mexican.

The goals may have been harsh on a dogged Norwich display, but it served as a timely reminder that newly-promoted teams will get short shrift at Old Trafford, and golden opportunities such as Pilkington’s are not to be wasted.

Ferguson spoke in midweek about a ”carelessness” in defence that cost United two Champions League points against Basel, and that defensive frailty reared its head again against Norwich. While the score line may be fairly routine, the nature of the result tells suggests that while Norwich showed bravery in defence and adventure in attack, they will have to be far more clinical if they are to capitalize in this league.

For United, the three points were always the objective beforehand, but better opponents will surely punish what is becoming a porous back line. Despite another impressive performance from Phil Jones, the return of captain Nemanja Vidic cannot come soon enough for Ferguson.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Valencia, Jones, Evans, Evra; Nani (Giggs 64), Anderson (Ferdinand 76), Carrick, Park; Hernandez (Welbeck 65), Rooney

Norwich City (4-5-1):: Ruddy; Naughton, R Martin, Barnett, Tierney; Bennett (Crofts 74), Hoolahan (C Martin 85), Fox (Jackson 74), Pilkington, Johnson; Morison

Did you know… Manchester United have now won 19 consecutive home games, the equivalent to a full Premier League season’s worth.

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