United’s title bid was dramatically put back on track by Ryan Giggs’ late winner in stoppage time.
Paul Scholes had threatened to steal the headlines from Giggs on the Welshman’s 900th appearance by heading home an early opener that, for so long, looked like being the only goal of the match. Norwich were not killed off and, instead, maintained a foothold in the game with Grant Holt equalising with only seven minutes remaining.
But Giggs had the final say in the dying seconds when tucking home an Ashley Young cross to cap a remarkable spell of pressure after Danny Welbeck looked to have passed up the opportunity to take the points.
Giggs flicked over from a Phil Jones cross with six minutes gone and, while that would have been a fairytale start, a goal was still forthcoming a minute later. A steady build-up did not appear to carry too much threat but there was a real sting in the tail when Nani whipped in a teasing cross from the right. Javier Hernandez and Welbeck were unable to get a touch but Scholes arrived on cue to give his nod of approval to the inviting centre.
A splendid move almost brought a second on 16 minutes when Nani and Hernandez ferried the ball to Welbeck but the striker’s goalbound shot was expertly tipped away by Ruddy’s fingertips with the keeper at full stretch. But Norwich retaliated with David De Gea matching Ruddy’s excellence with a vital block with his right boot to deny Anthony Pilkington, who beat Patrice Evra to advance onto a fine pass by Kyle Naughton.
Hernandez was unable to get any power on his shot after receiving a pass from Welbeck, with Ruddy saving comfortably, but De Gea was arguably busier than his opposite number in the first half. Pilkington’s cross was met by a deft header by Holt but the Spanish keeper was equal to it, not only reaching the effort but clutching it safely as well.
United were not in top gear throughout the opening 45 minutes but looked dangerous when knitting moves together as Scholes and Michael Carrick tried to get a grip in midfield. After the restart, the Reds asserted more control but there were few chances created.
Bradley Johnson drilled wide following a stray pass out of defence by Evra and Andrew Surman had a volley blocked but the champions’ defence looked comfortable. United burst into life with another lovely move as Welbeck played a one-two with Giggs but his lob past Ruddy did not carry enough pace on it and Zak Whitbread was able to clear.
De Gea had to be alert to make a spectacular diving catch to cut out a Pilkington centre but Sir Alex’s side conjured up another moment of inspiration when Phil Jones’ cross was volleyed against the bar by Giggs, who was so close to marking his special day with a goal.
Nevertheless, the Canaries remained in the game and, after a hopeful penalty shout against Scholes, Holt headed off target when left unmarked inside the area. Evra then blocked a Wes Hoolahan cross at point-blank range and escaped more appeals from the home supporters.
It took a superb save from De Gea, who pushed away an Aaron Wilbraham drive after the substitute was gifted possession by a rare sloppy pass by Scholes, to keep United level but an equaliser had been on the cards when, seconds later, Holt was allowed to turn despite the close attention of three defenders and lash home after Whitbread’s header fell to him.
You could almost hear the cheers from the blue half of Manchester. However, the champions mustered a spirited response with Carrick finding plenty of space and opting to pass to Young, whose shot was blocked by Naughton, and Welbeck was guilty of a bad miss when Giggs picked him out, failing to get a touch with his intended header.
Welbeck could only fire against Ruddy’s legs during a frantic finale and Elliot Ward almost put through his own net but Norwich’s resistance was ended when Young provided a telling cross and Giggs was in the right place at the right time to make it a dream day for the veteran midfielder.
Title bid right on track!!
Glory Glory ManUnited!!