John Ruddy gaffe lets Joe Hart off hook

Manchester City 2 Norwich City 1: Joe Hart may have ended up on the winning side, but there was a trace of guilt in his manner as he left the Etihad Stadium. “Be nice to me, won’t you lads?” he said as he passed a group of reporters, hoping for an interview. “I can’t talk after I’ve thrown one in like that.”
John Ruddy gaffe lets Joe Hart off hook

In the end, it did not matter that the Manchester City goalkeeper dropped a Robbie Brady cross to gift an equaliser to the alert Cameron Jerome seven minutes from the end.

Yet Hart was not going to let himself off the hook so easily. England’s number one was desperately disappointed by his error; that it did not cost his team the Premier League leadership was down to an even later mistake by his opposite number.

With Norwich moments away from claiming an unlikely 1-1 draw, John Ruddy fumbled a Jesus Navas cross, then caused chaos by charging after the loose ball rather than letting his defenders deal with it. In the ensuing melee, he got away with bringing down Fernandinho on the edge of the penalty area, then watched helplessly as substitute Raheem Sterling’s goalbound shot was palmed away illegally by his captain Russell Martin.

Referee Bobby Madley pointed to the penalty spot and sent off Martin; a grateful Yaya Toure drove in the penalty to secure victory. Ruddy, like Hart, kept his head down afterwards. Norwich manager Alex Neil could barely hide his frustration with his goalkeeper. Jerome, at least, managed a little more diplomacy.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” the goalscorer said. “These things happen in football because we’re all human.

“It’s just unfortunate that it’s cost us a point. John has been magnificent for us, and you saw England’s number one make an error at the other end to gift us as a goal.”

Hart, too, received support from his captain Vincent Kompany, who pointed out the number of occasions that the goalkeeper has saved his team in the past. Indeed, a late stop from Martin Olsson, seconds after Toure’s successful penalty, was critical to the victory.

“Joe hasn’t set a foot wrong for us in a long, long time,” Kompany said. “It’s good for him that it will be forgotten because the result was good, we won.

“You won’t find a better goalkeeper in England than Joe Hart. He has been too perfect, and we found out during this match that he is human.

“He has been City’s outstanding performer in the Champions League, but also in the Premier League last season a lot of the clean sheets were down to him.”

While goalkeeping errors dominated the post-match discussion, it would be wrong to suggest that Hart and Ruddy were the only two culpable figures during a match that packed most of its incident into the final minutes.

Neil, for instance, was unhappy with centre-back Ryan Bennett for allowing Nicolas Otamendi a free header to power in Kevin de Bruyne’s corner and give the home side the lead midway through the second half.

At that stage, it looked as though all of Norwich’s hard work in keeping the leaders at bay would come to nothing. In the end, that was how it turned out; it was just that there were a couple of twists en route to that destination.

In the home team too, all was far from perfect. Aleksandar Kolarov dragged a second City penalty wide with the last kick of the game after Brady had brought down Sterling, bringing an end to an afternoon in which their attacking threat had frequently misfired.

That attack was led by Wilfried Bony, who has struggled to convince anyone that he can be an adequate replacement for hamstring injury victim Sergio Aguero.

The Ivory Coast international, perhaps, is guilty of trying too hard, lashing two first-half shots into the stand behind the goal when a little finesse might have brought more success. His one clear second-half opportunity was bundled wide from close range under pressure.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini is prepared to be patient, but not forever. “Maybe he needs to score, because he is missing some chances,” Pellegrini said. “The way he plays and the striker he is, he normally doesn’t miss them.

“But I think he needs trust. He is playing after many months of not being able to work normally, for different reasons.

“Now I have placed a lot of trust in him, he must demonstrate why he’s here.”

If Bony could repay that faith against Sevilla in the Champions League on Tuesday, he might just start to turn the tide in his favour. Beating Norwich is one thing; to win in Spain, City need their key players to shake off their inconsistencies.

MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2):

Hart 5; Sagna 6, Otamendi 8, Kompany 7, Kolarov 6; Navas 5, Toure 7 (Demichelis 90), Fernandino 7, De Bruyne 7 (Fernando 73, 6); Iheanacho 6 (Sterling 54, 7), Bony 5.

NORWICH (5-4-1):

Ruddy 5; Brady 6, Bennett 6, Martin 7, Bassong 7, Olsson 6; Howson 6, Tettey 6, Mulumbu 7 (O’Neil 70, 7), Jarvis 6 (Redmond 46, 7); Jerome 7 (Grabban 87).

Referee:

Robert Madley 7

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