BOBBY Zamora ensured that Queens Park Rangers earned their first point of the Premier League season after a nervy affair at Carrow Road.
The former Fulham front-man was quickest to the ball after Djibril Cissé’s spot kick rebounded off the post – the Frenchman being felled by debutante Sebastien Bassong in the first instance.
They had to come from behind after more indecision in the back four allowed Anthony Pilkington the freedom of Carrow Road before picking out the unmarked Simeon Jackson.
It was an error-strewn encounter fraught with nervous mistakes, and while the Canaries looked more likely to strike late on, Rangers proved more resilient to hold out for a point.
Far from an advert for the Premier League, both sides will need to improve their respective defensive shortcomings to avoid being drawn into a relegation scrap this campaign.
Following a disastrous display at home to Swansea City last week, Mark Hughes ditched a 4-2-3-1 formation in favour of the tried and tested 4-4-2 – two changes in sum with Nedum Onuoha and Adel Taarabt making way while Armand Traoré and Bobby Zamora entered the fray.
That meant that former Canary Rob Green started in goal once more behind a back four of Fabio da Silva, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Traoré. The midfield comprised of Jamie Mackie, Ji Sung Park, Samba Diakité and Junior Hoilett with Zamora partnering Djibril Cissé in attack.
Norwich made four changes from their resounding defeat at Fulham with Ryan Bennett, Michael Turner, Andrew Surman and Marc Tierney missing out and coming in were Leon Barnett, Simeon Jackson and debutante duo Javier Garrido and Sebastien Bassong.
The Canaries started with John Ruddy behind a defence of Russell Martin, Bassong, Barnett and Garrido. Robert Snodgrass, Johnny Howson, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington started in midfield with Jackson partnering Grant Holt in attack.
KICK OFF: NORWICH CITY v QPR
Humidity was as high as the side’s expectations on an overcast afternoon in Norfolk. Considering the respective 5-0 trouncing by both sides on opening day, hope was eternal that the season indeed would start today.
QPR’s recent record at Carrow Road makes for bleak reading, but the history books take you back to 1976 when a defeat at Norwich saw Rangers hand the title initiative to Liverpool – and the visitors have not come closer since – a fact that still makes a trip to Carrow Road all that more daunting.
As mentioned it was a fixture that had the pundits purring and the words ‘six-pointer’ were uttered by the more sensationalist media men, with many expecting goals if nothing else from two sets of defenders that looked bizarrely off the pace on opening day.
The home side were certainly the more confident of the two teams as they set about their task early on. Man-mountain Grant Holt was predictably involved in the early stages, looking to put pressure on a surprisingly unchanged central defensive partnership of Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand.
Norwich were direct and look to cut straight into a nervy defensive unit – Fabio in particular was having his positional play highlighted with Pilkington seemingly able to attack at will down the left – it was beginning to re-open the wounds inflicted by Swansea City on the opening day.
Rangers’ forward play was a tad more expressive, but lacked that cut and thrust once more as expansive play took them the edge of the area. A speculative pass would go awry or the City rearguard would be suitably drilled to snuff out any predictable intentions on the edge of the area.
Despite the attacking intentions, genuine chances were few and far between and rather predictably it would be the hosts to take the lead – a defence once again intent to self-inflict, imploded once more in the face of a Canaries attack.
A simple passage of passing once again highlighted the positional sense of Fabio down the left flank as Pilkington strode into space before crossing expertly. SIMEON JACKSON lurched in unmarked to nod home with consummate ease – it was like Groundhog Day for QPR supporters as they had to come from behind once more.
Norwich attempted to calm their nerves on the ball as QPR chased the game – Pilkington was able to surge forward at will down the left and whether it was the lack of protection afforded to Fabio or issues he was having himself, the gap needed to be plugged and fast, before a lead became unassailable.
Then eight minutes later a lifeline from nothing – Hoilett tantalised down the left in an improved display from the Canadian. His low ball into Cissé saw the Frenchman attempt to knock on for Zamora before drawing a foolish, albeit innocuous foul from Bassong – Mr Clattenburg opted to give a spot kick.
Cissé himself strode up to the spot and John Ruddy did well to expertly tip onto the left hand upright – unfortunately for him BOBBY ZAMORA was on hand to to smash home the rebound, spare Cissé’s blushes and hand QPR the leveller they required in a tight encounter at Carrow Road.
Hoilett was brimming with confidence and despite a wild drive distance was proving a thorn in the side for Norwich and epitomised a new-found belief in QPR. The flashpoints started at the other end of the field as Holt started getting stuck in to the visiting back four, much to the chagrin of the travelling support.
Holt – who quickly rescinded a transfer request to sign a new deal in the summer – was throwing his considerable weight about and making a mug of referee Clattenburg by doing a trademark more of falling over and hauling his marker with him. It was proving effective, and so he persisted, rather disappointingly getting Clint Hill in the book in the process.
The more positive aspect of Norwich’s game however was still notable. Pilkington – a scorer at Loftus Road last season – stung the palms of Green from distance. A wise move considering the uncomfortable start to life he’s had in W12. It was proving end to end stuff despite the lack of quality on display.
It was powderpuff stuff at times with both teams gifting possession in key areas and defending like a side destined for the Championship – it was attacking but it was also distinctly lacking in the quality required to remain in this division. Speculative crosses and shots was all the two sides could muster as they went into the break level.
HALF TIME: NORWICH CITY 1-1 QPR
Clint Hill had to be withdrawn to avoid being on the receiving end of more Holt antics and subsequently a red card – he was replaced by Nedum Onuoha at the back, a player who would be hoping to fare better today than a self-professed poor showing on opening day.
QPR were looking a little more assertive on the attack in this half and the connections were starting to forge once more between Cissé and Zamora. A succession of fouls on the edge of the area were afforded at last to the visitors but the lack of yellow cards for the Canaries served to highlight some inconsistency in the officiating.
It was clear to see that Jackson’s confidence levels were through the roof after his early goal, but maybe his over-enthusiasm was ill-advised as he cannoned a shot into the side netting before blazing a left-footed strike over the bar.
Rangers were within inches of clawing their way in front after the aforementioned partnership between Cissé and Zamora nearly bore the fruits of a highly-sought end product. Zamora’s flick over the top was a little too far for the Frenchman who was inches away from connecting unmarked.
While Rangers were mixing up their attacking tactics between wide-play and the direct approach, Norwich had clearly started to tire after their early endeavour. Long balls for Grant Holt to outmuscle his counterparts was the point of attack for City, with varying degrees of success for the Canaries.
Thunderstorms were allegedly on the way, but the crash as Holt hit the floor once more had me thinking it had come a tad early. Once more he found himself on the floor, and again Mr Clattenburg had his arm raised in approval of a man reputedly in line for an England call up at the latter stages of last season.
An excellent resultant free-kick saw Leon Barnett miss from close range at the far post – a chance once again going awry for City and something that would need to be rectified if they were to take a definitive step to winning this clash.
The warning wasn’t heeded once more – Pilkington once again played architect down the left as his far post cross saw Snodgrass loop his header over from a useful position. Yet more profligacy for City as another chance drifted by for the hosts.
Rangers offered little in riposte, clipping the ball over the top for Cissé, who was seemingly unable to hold his line and getting caught straying offside. At times the through ball was delayed too much, at others his positional play lacked the awareness desired – it made for a worrying recipe going forward as the ball continually came back.
Cue the man to stead the occasion – Traoré made way for Jose Bosingwa, the former Chelsea man making his debut. He was assured and composed, helping refocus a back line under a wealth of pressure and pass his way intelligently out of trouble.
Diakité was then replaced by Shaun Derry in a bid to sure matters up at the back and rather set the intention of Hughes to hold the point, rather than go for all three. Attacking players in the guise of Andrew Johnson and Shaun Wright-Phillips waited on the bench as QPR looked to shut up shop.
It was nearly to their detriment as Norwich did opt to make that attacking change and looked far more likely to notch. Holt was booed off by the visiting supporters with Chris Martin coming on in his stead. It was nearly all Yellow for hosts as his header from another pin-point Pilkington centre crashed back off the bar.
Both sides would go on to share the spoils, a point that in the cold light of day both would be happy with. The visitors perhaps the happier of the two sides considering the flow of the game and their record at Carrow Road, but nevertheless more work to be done if the two sides are to retain their Premier League status.
FINAL WHISTLE: NORWICH CITY 1-1 QPR
NORWICH CITY: John Ruddy, Russell Martin, Leon Barnett, Sebastien Bassong, Javier Garrido, Robert Snodgrass, Johnny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Anthony Pilkington (Chris Martin 87), Simeon Jackson, Grant Holt (Steve Morison 87).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Rob Green, Fabio da Silva, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill (Nedum Onuoha 46), Armand Traoré (Jose Bosingwa 70), Jamie Mackie, Ji Sung Park, Samba Diakité (Shaun Derry 85), Junior Hoilett, Djibril Cissé, Bobby Zamora.