Photo Gallery: Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs stuns Norwich City
10:51 27 February 2012
Norwich City 1, Manchester United 2: Many moons ago, long before even Ryan Giggs had laced up his boots at Old Trafford, one of his Manchester United predecessors described how it felt to lose an FA Cup final to a last-minute winner after having just fought back from two goals down.
“It was like winning the pools then realising you had forgotten to post your coupon,” he said.
Norwich City experienced a similar feeling at Carrow Road yesterday when, straining every muscle and mustering every ounce of spirit and energy, they appeared to have secured a well-deserved point from their Premier League contest with the reigning champions, only to fall victim to a stoppage-time goal from the evergreen Giggs, making his 900th appearance for the same club and under the same manager.
That other old United warhorse, Paul Scholes, a year younger than Giggs at 37, had opened the scoring after just seven minutes and it took until seven minutes from time for City’s mounting pressure to deliver the equaliser when Grant Holt – a mere stripling in comparison at 30 years old – fired home his 12th goal of the season and his 65th for the club.
The celebrations on and off the field were something to behold, but the former Wales international winger had the final say when he poked in substitute Ashley Young’s cross in time added on.
Manager Paul Lambert, asked if it felt like a kick in the teeth, suggested a different part of the anatomy, and no wonder.
A team showing six changes from the abject FA Cup defeat by Leicester – just one of them enforced, because of Russell Martin’s illness – had recovered from a hesitant opening and more than matched Sir Alex Ferguson’s array of star names, as the man himself acknowledged afterwards.
City’s record of never having been doubled since Lambert became manager was finally ended, though the cruel nature of the defeat will have hurt more than the loss of that particular statistic.
The Canaries began by testing goalkeeper David de Gea with a couple of early crosses, to which he proved equal – as he did most things in a performance that made light of the criticism he has received since his big money move.
But it was United who struck as Scholes started a six-man move down the right and Nani floated a cross into the six-yard box, where the midfielder arrived unmarked to head home.
It might have been 2-0 after 16 minutes, but goalkeeper John Ruddy made a fine save from Danny Welbeck, diving to his right to keep out the striker’s low shot, following a pass by Javier Hernandez.
It took City until the 28th minute to inconvenience De Gea when Kyle Naughton’s pass played Anthony Pilkington in on the right side of the area and his cross-shot was saved by the goalkeeper’s legs.
Both ’keepers distinguished themselves before the interval as Ruddy saved from Hernandez after a neat one-two with Welbeck, and De Gea clung on to Holt’s near-post header from a Pilkington cross.
Wes Hoolahan was introduced for Simeon Jackson at the break and City continued to probe for an opening, Bradley Johnson powering a shot wide and Andrew Surman having a powerful volley blocked.
But it took a timely clearance by Zak Whitbread to keep the Canaries in touch after 64 minutes as he hooked away Welbeck’s goalbound effort from a yard in front of the line.
Pilkington, looking much more effective than eight days earlier, was rather surprisingly withdrawn with 20 minutes to go, but it must be said that striker Aaron Wilbraham again made the most of his brief outing.
Giggs almost found the net when he met Phil Jones’ cross with a volley that clipped the bar and went over, but after that scare, City began to gain the ascendancy.
Scholes rescued United with a header to prevent Elliott Ward cashing in on Wilbraham’s knock-back, then there were appeals for a penalty when Patrice Evra appeared to cut out Hoolahan’s cross with his hand.
Seven minutes from time, however, the pressure told.
Wilbraham almost brought City level with a stunning effort that De Gea tipped over after Scholes had passed straight to the substitute, but the resulting corner led to the equaliser. De Gea punched clear from the flag-kick but David Fox retrieved and Adam Drury crossed into the area where Whitbread nodded powerfully on and Holt turned and fired left-footed past the ’keeper.
Carrow Road erupted but the net result was to shake United out of their complacency and provoke the late rally that secured the points.
Welbeck missed a golden chance when he failed to get his head to a Giggs cross, then Ruddy saved with his legs from Welbeck before Ward produced a dramatic clearance as the game entered three minutes of stoppage time.
More than a minute into time added on, however, Young crossed from the left and Giggs arrived at the far post to touch the ball home left-footed and prompt more wild celebrations, albeit on a smaller scale, in one section of an otherwise shell-shocked crowd.