DRAW NO DISASTER FOR EITHER HOPEFUL
NEITHER side has much use for draws in this tightest of seasons, but Derby are within their rights to take pride in this unlikely comeback.
Shorn of strikers and a goal down to the division’s most in-form outfit, the Rams – never the most robust of sides – looked set for another meek surrender. But they showed admirable fight in the 30 minutes after half-time and deserved the stroke of luck that produced their equaliser.
They will need to show a lot more in the final weeks of the season, but with Chris Martin and Darren Bent on the comeback trail, there is reason for optimism.
Ruddy’s howler and a duff half-hour aside, the Canaries can take heart too.
Their performance – especially in the first half – was Premier League standard, full of high pressing, clever movement and slick passing.
If their finishing had matched it, three points would have been theirs and not many sides will be able to withstand what Derby did.
“I kept is as late as possible, but I had no hesitation in putting him in.”
Hanson’s heaven was Ruddy’s hell, but Canaries boss Alex Neil refused to point the finger.
“John’s been fantastic since I came here,” said the Scot, who has now overseen five wins and a draw from the last seven games. “He’s made crucial saves in big games and he’s one of the main reasons we are where we are.
“It’s going to be highlighted more because he’s a goalkeeper. But to be honest, watching the replay you can see Jeff Hendrick actually has hold of John’s arm. He’s trying to catch a swirling 40-yard ball with one hand, which isn’t easy.
“But these things happen and regardless of that incident, we did more than enough to win the match.”
It’s difficult to argue – few could have imagined Derby would escape with a point after 45 minutes which illustrated just how much they miss the injured Chris Martin.
It isn’t just goals; the Norfolk boy and former Norwich player holds up play, buys free-kicks, nags, niggles and offers his defenders a permanent outlet.
Lacking that focal point, the Rams simply could not come up for air against a Norwich side hell-bent on pouring forward and, with Wes Hoolahan in typically impish form, it was only a matter of time before they cracked.
In fairness, it took a brilliant move to undo Derby’s defence. Alex Tettey played a one-two with Bradley Johnson, then found Hoolahan who slid a sublime ball into the path of Martin Olsson. The Swede’s first-time cross was inch-perfect and Jerome – bursting into space – couldn’t miss from four yards.
Yet the yellow tide never quite burst Derby’s banks. Emboldened, the Rams competed with far greater intensity after the break and got their reward when Hanson – nicknamed ‘Bruiser’ and by then sporting a bandage following a clash of heads with Tettey – levelled the scores.
But as Neil said, the home side should still have triumphed. Seb Bassong’s header was clawed off the line by Grant and, deep into injury time, Jerome missed a pair of stone-cold sitters, first heading over from 12 yards before somehow clearing the bar from six.
FIRST BLOOD: Cameron Jerome scores for Norwich
STAR MAN STEVE