A resolute Norwich City placed a significant dent in Manchester City’s Premier League title aspirations with a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Manchester City enjoyed plenty of possession, but aside from a Sergio Aguero effort that was superbly saved by John Ruddy in the first half, they created precious little.
It could have been so much worse for Manuel Pellegrini’s side had Patrick Bamford’s 25-yard half-volley that crashed against the woodwork just before the break been a fraction lower.
Norwich remain in the bottom three, below fourth-bottom Sunderland on goal difference, while Manchester City are now nine points behind leaders Leicester City, who host Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle United on Monday.
The result also jeopardised the visitors’ hopes of Champions League qualification, which would be an embarrassing scenario ahead of Pep Guardiola’s arrival as manager.
Manchester City began with a 4-4-2 formation, the muscular presence of Wilfried Bony providing support for 21-goal striker Aguero in attack.
Immediately the visitors took charge of possession, with David Silva drifting in from the left flank to link the attack, while Jesus Navas provided width on the right.
Norwich had claimed just one point from their previous nine league matches — their worst run since 1946 — and they looked edgy in the opening exchanges against a team who had won 3-0 at Carrow Road in the FA Cup earlier in the season.
It was certainly a safety-first approach from manager Alex Neil, whose 4-2-3-1 formation quickly reverted to a 4-5-1 when Norwich lost the ball.
Ruddy, the Norwich goalkeeper, was called into his first serious action on 15 minutes when he unconvincingly tipped Aguero’s swerving free-kick over the bar after Gary O’Neil was penalised for a push on Fernandinho.
Aguero, who has five goals in five appearances against Norwich, then flashed an angled low drive just wide of Ruddy’s left-hand post from 18 yards.
The Argentine striker was an excellent outlet for the visitors and he forced a terrific low save from Ruddy after wriggling free of Timm Klose.
Norwich, though, led by the excellent Klose, were resolute in defence and snapped into tackles as they began to squeeze their opponents back.
In the closing stages of the first half they grew in confidence in possession and came the closest to opening the scoring.
Man City have won just 37% of their tackles in the Premier League this season; the worst record in the division. pic.twitter.com/oLTAc1c4Ki— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 12, 2016
Bamford, on loan from Chelsea and making his first start in the Premier League, unleashed an instinctive drive from 25 yards that rattled the bar.
Despite losing the lively Nathan Redmond to injury, Norwich finished the half strongly, with Matt Jarvis seeing his deflected goal-bound shot loop into the air and land agonisingly wide of Joe Hart’s goal.
Pellegrini’s side dominated after the break and even more so when Raheem Sterling replaced the ineffective Bony.
But Norwich simply refused to buckle and their stubborn rearguard offered excellent protection for Ruddy, who was rarely troubled as the away team failed to muster a single shot on target after the break.
A double substitution of Dieumerci Mbokani and Cameron Jerome added fresh legs to the Norwich attack.
Manchester City continued to hammer away at the yellow and green wall bravely defending their penalty area, but it was a wall that could not be breached.
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