This relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road was always going to be a tense, tight affair with both teams having their problems lately. West Ham have been racking up the 0-0 draws by ignoring the old Academy of Football tag, eschewing strikers so the midfield can be packed out and generally boring the arse of everyone from Alf Garnett downwards. Norwich have had a dire run, culminating of course in last week’s 0-7 capitulation at Manchester City. A draw seemed a likely enough outcome to this meeting of mediocrities, the ‘Ammers being impotent up front but tighter than a gnat’s chuff in defence, where only one penalty goal had been conceded away from the Boleyn all season.
Given West Ham’s ineptitude in front of goal, it was somewhat of a surprise when they took the lead after 32 minutes, Nolan keeping the ball in play on the goal-line before turning it back across the six yard box for Morrison to finish close in. At this point, you might have wagered some decent money on the away side prevailing; it’s not exactly unknown for a team who’ve just been whopped 7-0 to let their heads go down if they then go on to concede the first next time out. To their credit though, Norwich battled on where they might have surrendered – and the deficit at half time was still just the one goal.
After the interval, Norwich again showed an inclination to roll up their sleeves and redeem themselves from last week’s shame. At one goal down, there are always possibilities, and Norwich were destined to find those possibilities and realise them. The comeback was started after 54 minutes by some uncharacteristically nervous jitters in the Londoners’ defence, Jaaskelainen first gathering an innocuous high ball, then dropping it unaccountably at Hooper’s feet. In the subsequent scrimmage, the Hammers keeper fouled Hooper to concede a penalty, converted by the former Celtic striker to level matters. This was only the second away goal West Ham had conceded all season – both penalties – but things were about to get worse.
It was the old Leeds one-two that saw West Ham go behind after 72 minutes. Johnny Howson had nicked possession in midfield and advanced unchallenged to unleash a shot that beat Jaaskelainen all ends up, hitting the crossbar and rebounding outside the penalty area. In the scramble to win the ball, a foul was committed by Nolan, who was booked for his trouble. The free-kick gave Rob Snodgrass his chance and he took it brilliantly, curling the ball over the ‘Ammers wall to nestle in the goal at the near post. The awful reality was dawning on West Ham that – having performed above all expectations to score once, they’d now have to do it again. But not a lot was ‘appening for the ‘Ammers, and really Snodgrass should have extended the lead on 85 minutes when he was unable to keep a fairly simple volley down with the net gaping.
It was all over in stoppage time when Leroy Fer rode a weak challenge just outside the West Ham box, worked his way into the left hand side of the area and then planted a low cross shot into the far corner for 3-1. That was it; the whistle blew and the ‘Ammers had contrived to lose to last week’s whipping boys, demonstrating who really has the problems at the moment. Norwich have climbed from their relegation-zone berth to fifteenth on the back of this win, but West Ham now hover uncomfortably over the trapdoor, as unproductive as ever and now with the previously tight rearguard starting to fail them.
For Norwich, there are glimmers of hope. A response like this to the humiliation City inflicted shows reserves of character that may yet see them through. West Ham, on the other hand, will be conscious that at 1-0 up against a team so demoralised as the Canaries must have been, they missed a great chance to capitalise. Worrying times indeed for Fat Sam and his punchless charges.