FULL TIME: Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United.
And that's it! What a superb result for Norwich (and Manchester) City! The home side thoroughly deserved the three points, Anthony Pilkington guiding in a deliciously delicate header for the only goal of the game. United piled on the pressure thereafter, but you can't be giving your opponents the lead again and again, and expect to turn things around every time. United can have no complaints as they fall to their third defeat of the season; they remain in second spot. Norwich, meanwhile, spring up to 14th place, five points between them and the relegation places. What the home side would have given for this result back in April 1993, eh?
90 min +5: The ball breaks to Anderson, just to the right of the D. He unleashes a pearler towards the bottom right, but Ruddy parries, then snaffles the loose ball under pressure from the onrushing Scholes.
90 min +4: A free kick for United, 35 yards out down the right. Van Persie takes, and his curler is met by Bassong, who eyebrows the ball towards the top-left corner of his own goal! But what a save by Ruddy, who arches his back and tips over the bar. A stupendously good save. The resulting corner leads to nothing.
90 min +3: United pass it around in the middle, this way and that. But they're going nowhere.
90 min +2: The first booking of the game, and it goes to Rafael for unnecessarily Baroque sentence construction.
90 min +1: There will be four added minutes, though don't be surprised if that runs to five at least, because Garrincha-Snodgrass rolls around the turf awhile, then is replaced by Bennett.
90 min: Carrick shoots from the edge of the area, but his effort blooters into Johnson's coupon. Norwich break at high speed upfield, the substitutes Morison and Howson two on one! Morison makes up most of the ground, then slides in Howson, who is clear down the inside-right channel. Howson panics, and screws a comically poor effort wide left of goal. Lindegaard is too busy retrieving the ball at speed to roll about bellylaughing.
89 min: Scholes pings a diagonal ball into the area from the left, but Ruddy comes out to claim with supreme confidence.
88 min: Johnson, pootling down the inside-left channel, has a dig from 25 yards or so. Lindegaard is behind it all the way.
87 min: Morison puts his head down and steams along the left wing, before slipping a fairly aimless effort right through the box. It's safe to say that Norwich are not committing too many of their players into attacks. A sensible tactic? Or is sitting back inviting trouble?
85 min: Young is a busy chap. He sends another cross into the area from the right. Welbeck meets it with his head, though I'm not sure what he tries to do. Is he looking to cushion the ball down for van Persie, on the edge of the six-yard area? Or is he aiming for the top-right corner? Not sure. Either way, a strange Nothing effort sails out of play, miles to the right of goal.
83 min: Morison and Howson replace Holt and Hoolahan, while Anderson comes on for Ferdinand.
82 min: This is Attack versus Defence now, a bit like Man versus Food only instead of a bloke grinning while sat behind a large pyramid of pulled pork while waiting for his inevitable thumping coronary, Young swings a ball in from the right only for Whittaker to clear.
81 min: A corner for United down the left. Young curls a low ball towards the near post, but Holt is on hand to belt clear.
79 min: Evra's mind is set on busting clear down the left, but he concedes a hectic free kick, then starts hopping around in the agitated style. Plenty of time yet, Patrice, you know how United roll.
78 min: United are passing the ball around a lot, hither and yon, but not really doing very much with it. Giggs attempts to take a high ball down on the edge of the area, with a view to cutting inside and shooting, but he can't cushion it as it drops.
75 min: Two headers on target within 60 seconds from Welbeck. The first, from a chipped right-wing cross by Young, is heading for the top right corner before being deflected out. From the resulting corner, he wafts a weak effort straight at Ruddy.
73 min: Holt bombs down the left after a loose ball, and wins himself a free kick. United deal with the first phase, but the ball's soon coming back at them, Garrincha cutting in from the right and curling a ball towards the far post. Smalling looks to have dealt with it, but winds up missing the ball. Johnson wasn't expecting the ball to make it through, and he can't react in time. "I'm intrigued by the idea of forwarding MBMs to mothers to show our names up in lights," writes Matt Dony. "I'm not sure I'll be bothering with it myself, though. My sister is a doctor of history, so I'm fairly sure any pride over my getting idiotic emails printed would fall squarely into the 'patronising' category." Well, imagine having to tell your mother you do this for a day job! Luckily she's not connected to the internet, so she thinks I'm an airline pilot (a job I've held down ever since I got bored with the brain surgeon gig). Proud Mrs M!
70 min: The corner isn't worth describing, which makes my life a whole lot easier, I can tell you that for free.
69 min: Valencia drops a shoulder down the right and wins a corner off Turner. It's his last act of the afternoon, as before the set piece is taken, he's replaced by Paul Scholes, who was 38 years old yesterday. Also on for United is Danny Welbeck, supersubbing his team's usual supersub Hernandez.
66 min: A period of United possession in the Norwich half. But it's going nowhere, and eventually Young falls over while on the ball, allowing Tettey to reclaim the ball and ease the pressure on the home side. Expect a United change imminently.
63 min: Carrow Road is almost bursting with noise. Giggs tippy-toes on the edge of the area, hoping to turn and blast a shot goalwards, but he can't get the ball under proper control, and he hacks out of play to the left of goal.
62 min: United haven't responded yet, and Johnson makes off down the left before getting far too much on a cross into a United area which doesn't contain any yellow shirts anyway.
GOAL!!! Norwich City 1-0 Manchester United (Pilkington 60)
What a finish this is! The ball's slipped down the left wing for Garrido, who races onto it and whips a first-time cross towards Pilkington at the near post. The erstwhile United starlet flicks a looping header over Lindegaard and into the top-right corner. That was in from the second it left Pilkington's head - and United trail for the 11th time this season!
56 min: All a bit shapeless at the moment, this. Anyway, our pal Ben Russell is back: "Hope I didn't hurt your journalistic feelings there, Scott. Your lengthy response to my innocent stylistic suggestion indicates a slight touchiness. Anyway I'm delighted to have seen my name in print not once but twice! I'll be forwarding the whole MBM exchange to my mum." [Hack turns to gallery] This suggests Ben's a new reader, doesn't it, folks, given that our trademark in-house touchiness has been on brazen display since about 2001. So let's cut him some slack. And wish all the best to Mrs R!
53 min: Space for Garrido down the left, after a short period of Norwich triangulation. The resulting cross is overcooked, leaving Holt in the middle to deal with existential issues.
Garrincha Snodgrass goes down under not much of a challenge from Evra. The United full back throws his arms around in theatrical annoyance, and the free kick was indeed soft, but there was contact, and the Norwich player simply made the most of it. Anyway, Garrincha Snodgrass takes the set piece himself, and curls it to the far post where Holt lurks and Lindegaard flaps. But the ball's cleared. No harm done, then, if you thought that free kick was on the soft side.
49 min: Valencia, not for the first time today, causes Norwich some pain and misery down the right. It's a corner. And one that's cleared with ease by the home side. But already in this half United are displaying more purpose and energy. "I do wish you would start saying 'oh suchandsuch' again," sobs David Thomas. "I used to really enjoy that."
47 min: Norwich are having a spot of difficulty getting hold of the ball at the moment. Young sprays a delightful crossfield ball from the left to release van Persie down the inside-right channel and into the Norwich box. The striker checks back, turns, and shoots towards the bottom right, but there's no power in the effort and Ruddy claims. "Football hasn't changed that much," suggests Justin Kavanagh, with reference to this report's preamble. "Twenty years ago, Ryan Giggs was regularly picked by Alex Ferguson, Mark Hughes was sulking in a corner of whatever dressing room he found himself in of a Saturday, and Manchester United were about to drop their sickly looking goalkeeper (Jim Leighton) who just wanted to go back home to where he came from. Speaking of De Gea and his sore tooth: always pay for your doughnuts, kids."
And we're off again!
The teams are out and, furthermore, about. United are clearly raring to go, because they've been sent out early. Presumably the nip in the air won't be worrying them, because there's a fair chance Sir Alex Ferguson got his Babyliss Turbo Shine out, and there's been a temperature-related incident in their dressing room. Anyway, they set the ball rolling again.
AND NOW ... FROM NORWICH ... IT'S THE (HALF-TIME) QUIZ OF THE WEEK!
A multiple-choice question for you. When it comes to cheap-and-cheerful quiz shows transmitted by ITV during the 1970s, was Sale of the Century with Nicholas Parsons a patch on Tarby's Winner Takes All or
Alan Partridge's Fred Dinenage's Gambit (the latter another memorable Anglia TV production, albeit one with a frankly unacceptably long title sequence)?
HALF TIME: Norwich City 0-0 Manchester United
And that's that for the half. Norwich will be very happy with their performance so far, having gone close on a couple of occasions. United won't be too worried, though, as they don't really do first halves these days. Will Dangerous United be turning up for the second period? Don't go away now! "Oh Ben!" writes Paul Ruffley, before adding: "Well, someone had to."
45 min: Norwich while away the minutes before the break with a period of possession in the United half. They're not really going anywhere, but this is impressive game management after giving up a couple of chances back there.
42 min: A corner for United down the right Valencia forcing Garrido into action. The ball finds Young, cutting in from the left. He shoots for the bottom right corner, but Ruddy palms away. A second corner, from which Smalling twists and turns in the area, his effort deflected wide right. A third corner is claimed by the Norwich keeper. "Stop saying 'Oh suchandsuch!' all the time," barks Ben Russell, stamping his feet and wagging his finger, the quality of this free report not nearly good enough for his exacting standards. "It's annoying." Well, Ben, I'm sure all our other readers will join me in congratulating you on your appointment as editor of Guardian Sport. Personally speaking, I'm glad you've got the job, because you seem nice. Do you demand things in this abrupt manner when you're dealing with folk face to face? Perhaps when in the restaurant, you click your finger under the noses of waiting staff in order to get the exact service you require? Does it get results? I hope you tip well. Anyway, your wish is my command, dear reader, I'll stop with immediate effect. In fact, if you email me your Skype details, I'll call at half time and perform a little soft-shoe shuffle in front of the camera for you as well.
40 min: The best chance of the match for United, as Giggs lifts a looping pass down the inside-right channel for van Persie. The Dutch striker contorts in mid air, with a view to volleying the ball goalwards as it drops over his shoulder, but for once he can't get his timing right, and he wafts the ball harmlessly out of play, wide of the target.
37 min: Snodgrass-Garrincha makes good down the right, and fires a low ball towards Holt at the near post. Holt is sliding in at pace to connect, but Smalling gets his body in the way and the ball balloons off to safety. Great play by Scotland's one-man homage to the 1962 World Cup, and quality defending as well.
35 min: Norwich are struggling to hold onto the ball now, though United aren't doing much with all their possession. "I prefer to think of Garrincha as 'the Brazilian Snodgrass'," writes Simon McMahon, who is talking my language. "In the same way that I habitually refer to Messi as the 'Argentinian Gary Mackay-Steven'." (For the record, I'm trilingual, fluent in Mummery, Poppycock and my mother tongue of Arrant Nonsense.)
33 min: Norwich are doing a fairly decent job of keeping United quiet here. Mind you, most teams are leading United by this stage, albeit for all the good it's done them all this season. Early United may not be up to much, but Dangerous United will probably be along in a wee while. They're a bit indolent, they usually only rock up for the last half hour / ten minutes or so.
29 min: A loose pass inside by Rafael down the right. Hoolahan picks the ball up, then lays off for Johnson, whose attempt at a piledriver from distance isn't very good, really. But that was loose play from United.
28 min: A lull in proceedings. The players deserve the rest, it's been entertaining fare up to now.
25 min: Pilkington plays a delightful little reverse pass down the left to release Garrido, who sends the ball screaming through the six-yard box and out of play for a goal kick. Holt was on the back foot there, if he'd taken a chance to slide in, he might have got lucky.
24 min: Hoolihan sashays down the left, then cuts back and swings a curler towards the far post, where Snodgrass eyebrows wide on the right. United are enjoying most of the possession here, much as you'd expect, but Norwich are giving as good as they're getting in terms of creating half-chances. This is an entertaining enough game, even if it's been a bit light on serious drama and incident so far.
21 min: Hernandez dances down the left and wins a corner. Young swings the set piece into the area, and finds the head of Evra, of all people. The wee man can't get much purchase on the ball, though, and the ball sails out harmlessly to the right of goal.
18 min: Johnson, in the centre circle, rolls a pass down the inside-right channel to Pilkington, who not for the first time in this match finds himself in a bit of space. He turns and looks for the bottom-right corner, though there's not much venom in the 20-yard effort, and Lindegaard snaffles with ease.
15 min: Hernandez is shoved over, 35 yards out, just to the left of the D. Young and Giggs stand over the ball. Giggs nudges it, and whips a shot towards the top-right corner. It's on target, and travelling at a decent pace, but never likely to beat Ruddy from there. Still, there's nothing wrong with ambition, is there.
13 min: It's been a fairly lively start, and a nice open match. All very pretty, with both sides pinging it around on the carpet, and at a pleasing high tempo. And a decent, if not a blistering, atmosphere too. "I thought your 'Ref (Manchester, behave)' was a funny, but didn’t realise he actually is from two minutes down the road from the Stretford End," notes Adam Hirst. "That really is asking for trouble, what a stupid appointment after recent whinging from Chelsea and just about everybody else. Presumably though, Mr Clattenburg was down for this one originally so Chelsea can only blame themselves if United get a little help." Chelsea? Are you referring to the title race?
10 mins: Young is upended by Whittaker down the left, ten yards or so from the byline. Giggs pulls a low free kick back to van Persie who, level with the left-hand post, falls backwards as he attempts to guide a shot into the top left, and only just about finds the top left of the stand behind the goal.
8 min: Another corner to United, Valencia causing all manner of trouble down the right. But City never mind the danger, and clear it, tearing upfield through Pilkington, who bombs at high velocity down the left before looking for the bottom-right corner from the edge of the box. It's a decent effort, albeit one that's always curling away from the target. Lindegaard probably had it covered, too. But that was a fine romp upfield by the home team.
5 min: Snodgrass, the nearest Scotland have to Garrincha at the moment, diddles in from the right and hoofs an adventurous effort over the bar from the edge of the area. It doesn't cause Lindegaard's pulse to race.
4 min: From that corner, Whittaker heads behind for a second United corner. And that one's cleared without much fuss. "Not a defeat at Reading, a Suarez-inspired Liverpool win and a Mike Walker photograph in the same twenty minutes, Scott," begs our pet Evertonian, Gary Naylor. "It's like that Olympic Super Saturday in reverse."
3 min: United knock it around the back awhile, just feeling their way into the match. Suddenly they spring forward, van Persie taking up possession with his back to goal at the front of the D, spinning and firing for the bottom-left corner. Ruddy gets down to turn an excellent effort around the post. Corner.
And we're off!
Norwich get the ball rolling. In fact, they get it flying, hoofing the thing down the pitch and losing possession within six seconds. The only way is up, in more ways than one.
The teams are out! Norwich City in their classic yellow and green get-up, Manchester United in their equally well-known red, white and black combo. Having just watched Heart of Midlothian take on Australia at Twickenham, it's nice to see some classic threads. Even if United are decked out in gingham.
The league table as it stands ... makes good reading for both sides. United can go top again, two points clear of Manchester City with a win here. Meanwhile the worst case for Norwich is that they'll end the day in 15th place, two points clear of the relegation zone, which is currently occupied by Aston Villa, Southampton and
Mark Hughes's QPR. United will have mild radge at the moment, their arch-rivals Manchester City having won 5-0 against Villa today. Norwich, on the other hand, will be feeling warm blasts of schadenfreude pulsing through their heads and bodies, Ipswich having gone down 6-0 at Leicester.
Introducing the referee: A Taylor (Manchester, behave). This fellow's got a pocket not so much like Kevin Keegan's famous toaster, with cards popping out at regular intervals, more the drip tray of a George Foreman Grill, with a constant flow of yellow and red juices oozing out of it. That doesn't work, does it. Ah well, I've typed it up now. Anyway, eighteen yellows and three reds in 11 games, a record which includes two sendings off in his last two Premier League matches: Stephane Mbia of QPR at Arsenal, Fabricio Coloccini of Newcastle at Liverpool. Will he complete a Red Card For Visiting Player trifecta today? Watch out, United! Best behaviour!
The teams are in.
Norwich City, unchanged from the side which drew at Reading: Ruddy, Whittaker, Bassong, Turner, Garrido, Snodgrass, Johnson, Tettey, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Holt.
Subs: Bunn, Howson, Jackson, Morison, Elliott Bennett, Tierney, Ryan Bennett.
Manchester United, who must do without Wayne Rooney (ankle) and David de Gea (sore tooth): Lindegaard, Da Silva, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Young, van Persie, Hernandez.
Subs: Johnstone, Jones, Anderson, Welbeck, Scholes, Cleverley, Fletcher.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Apparently. So they say. Except that's not really true, is it. Take football: it's changed - but it's changed! Oh soccer! What happened? What happened to us? We just don't know you any more.
To illustrate the point, Norwich City versus Manchester United in the FA Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson's side will be taking nothing for granted this evening, of course, but chances are, the league leaders will sashay off with the three points from Carrow Road this evening. Norwich City's recent form is better than decent - they're unbeaten in four Premier League games, a run which has seen them beat Arsenal and additionally knock Spurs out of the League Cup - but they've lost seven of their last eight matches against Manchester United. And the visitors are in red-hot form, on a five-match winning run in the league which has included comprehensive victories over Chelsea and Arsenal, and a ludicrously impressive comeback at Aston Villa. United are hot favourites: they're perennial title contenders, while Norwich will just be happy to maintain their divisional status this season.
Cast your mind back 20 seasons, though, to the corresponding fixture. It's the first season of the Premier and Champions Leagues, before the money generated by the Premier and Champions Leagues had completely jiggered All Football. United still have title pretensions - but the biggest club in the world haven't won the thing for 26 years, and after bottling it the season before, look like filling their breeks again. From a position atop the table after 31 games, they fail to win any of the next four, picking up only three points from 12. They travel to Norwich in all sorts of trouble, four off the leaders Aston Villa. They're in third place, behind... Norwich City, who have launched an unlikely title bid under Mike Walker.
City's tilt at the title has been idiosyncratic, to say the least. Hotly tipped for relegation, they start the season with a blistering 4-2 win at title hopefuls Arsenal, and never look back. By the time they beat Wimbledon 2-1 at the beginning of December, they're eight points clear at the top (despite having been whupped 7-1 at Blackburn along the way). But they only win three more games until March, whereupon another mini-burst of form gets them right back in the race. On the evening United come to town, they can go top again with a win. A defeat for United, meanwhile, will probably scupper their season, and it'll be at least 27 years before they win that elusive title.
Cue one of the great carpe diem moments in English football history. United, the pressure on, throw the kitchen sink at Norwich. Within 21 minutes, they're three goals up through Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis and Eric Cantona. Norwich's fragile confidence collapses, even though Mark Robins manages a second-half consolation. They go to Spurs on the Friday, and get humped 5-1, the jig up. The day after, Steve Bruce stages a late one-man comeback against Sheffield Wednesday, and United's title wait will soon be over.
Close, then, but no cigar for Norwich. Still, what a campaign, one which earns them a subsequent season of Bayern Munich bothering. Heady times. But the idea of Norwich City Football Club battling for the title these days? Not gonna happen. Oh football! What happened? You've changed.
Kick off: 5.30pm.