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Next in the new series that looks at classic games between us and our upcoming opponents, Clare Thomas revisits a game from the shirt-billowing mid-00s that had a notable half time...
The Story of the Game
On the evening of February 28th 2005, the City of Norwich lined up at a floodlit Carrow Road for a televised game against the City of Manchester. From snow to sendings off, crazy half-time ‘entertainment’ to the cruelest of last minute winners, this was a match that had it all.
Norwich were desperate for a win; their return to the Premier League under Nigel Worthington had been one of struggle. With only three previous victories City were headed into March with relegation looming, despite the astonishing 4-4 comeback v Middlesbrough – unfortunately not worth bonus points for effort.
The forecast for City looked as gloomy as the snowy weather on that Feburary night, but the performances of highly rated Dean Ashton, after his record £3million arrival from Crewe the previous month, had offered a glimmer of brightness. In a struggling City side he had shone, playing a pivotal role in our bid for survival. Towering over six foot, here was a striker who appeared the epitome of a target man, but who was capable of skill and subtleties his physique belied. It was once written that he looked like a bear performing ballet and, in front of the TV cameras, the 21 year old was about to demonstrate just that.
In the 12th minute of the game Adam Drury picked the ball up just past the halfway line and floated a long diagonal into the box. With his back turned and running away from the goal towards the left channel, Ashton met the ball with the outside of his right foot and looped it deftly over his shoulder, a perplexed Sylvian Distin and a flailing David James, into the far corner of the net. Sitting in the Upper Barclay, I had the perfect view of what remains one of my most favourite goals and recall feeling almost incredulous at what I had just witnessed. It was an outrageous volley; a moment of genius that almost defied belief. The type of audacious strike only attempted by a fearless young man who felt incapable of failing. In that moment we realised we had a very special striker on our hands. A player capable of brilliance, seemingly unnerved by the hopes of a city being draped on his broad shoulders.
A surge of energy flooded the ground, buoying the team and fans, and after 16 minutes City raced into a two goal lead. Full of confidence, Ashton won the ball in midfield and fed Leon McKenzie, who outpaced the Man City defence and touched the ball past James and into the net. Kevin Keegan, clad all in black, stood shaking his head in the dugout. He may have looked like the man from the Milk Tray advert, but his team were anything but suave. All they were delivering was a defensive horror show.
Here is where this happy tale ends. Norwich hadn’t kept a clean sheet in their previous 20 games and weren’t about to start now. With Manchester City on the rack, the Canaries decided to turn into chickens of the headless kind. By half time they had imploded, and The Blues had drawn level thanks to a Sibierksi header and Robbie Fowler’s 150th career goal.
The stirring half time entertainment appeared to have filtered into City’s peformance at the start of the second half, as they came out much more organised than they had ended the first. But it was the visiors who remained on top, and with the exception of the irreproachable Ashton, the pressure of the situation was cleary affecting Norwich’s football. Their task became even harder when Mattias Jonson was shown a second yellow for a late challenge, seemingly confused by the fact that despite his target being Mr Joey Barton, it still counted as a foul.
Against the odds City kept going, before falling to the cruellest of defeats in the final minute. Robert Green parried a shot into the path of the exceedingly fortunate Fowler, who scuffed his shot sideways. The miss-hit ball trickled agonisingly over the line, as if someone had pressed the slow motion button. The sluggish pace of the ball only intensified the pain of the City fans and players; one collective puff of breath from the Barclay would surely have stopped it in its tracks.
Long term significance
Mention you are a Norwich fan to the unfortunate folk who are not and the predictable quip about our dear Delia’s infamous half time pep talk invariably follows. The now legendary ‘Come on, let’s be having you’ is as much a part of our history as the slaying of Bayern Munich, whether we like it or not. We embraced it with as much grace and humour as Delia herself; turning her words into our own song for the terraces, a way of facing the jests that inevitably came our way. But what is often overlooked is that surrounding this Smithillian speech was a stonkingly good game, with one hell of a good goal.
Despite Norwich City’s later relegation, Ashton’s status remained high. After the Manchester City defeat, Kevin Keegan admitted he was surprised by just how good Ashton was, proclaiming the striker’s performance to be as good as he had seen upfront all season. With sublime touch, vision and a killer instinct, he possesed the ability to unlock the tightest of defences, scoring goals others wouldn’t be capable of producing. The Premier League was his platform and after a £7 million switch to West Ham he continued to shine at the highest level.
Poignantly for a player with the world at his feet, it was injury to his lower extremity that cruelly cut his career short at age of 26. England had been robbed of a remarkable talent, but some consolation can be taken from the fact in those few short years he gave the fans he played in front of some very special memories. For this particular Norwich fan, it was his goal against Manchester City. In this incredible, unfathomable, multi-faceted diamond of a match, his goal was the true gem; to be forever treasured by those who witnessed it.
You might have forgotten that…
During the same half time with Delia’s rally cry there was an equally ferocious display by the Royal Marines, who abseiled down from the roof of the City Stand onto the pitch. They demonstrated unarmed combat to the somewhat discombobulated crowd, whom were, by that point, feeling as if they were in the middle of a most peculiar dream.
What happened in the rest of that season?
The timing and nature of the loss felt as though relegation was inevitable and in spite of a futile late rally, which saw City win four of the last seven games, it was. Knowing that a win at Craven Cottage on the final day would keep us up, we all know what happened next…
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