Against the great escapologists of old Norwich pulled off a crucial win that suddenly brings a Houdini act of their own into view. Nobody expects them to emulate Leicester in steaming on to win next season’s Premier League but survival this year now seems achievable after Jamal Lewis’s superb 70th-minute goal settled a game that fizzed and popped throughout. Back in 2014-15 Leicester began eating into a seven-point deficit with nine games to play; by that measure Norwich are two matches ahead of schedule and a season that had all but been written off as a learning experience pulsates, at least for a week or so, with fresh life.
Inhibition has generally been the least of Norwich’s problems but Daniel Farke had been criticised for leaving their gifted, if mercurial, creative force Emi Buendia on the bench for the last three games. Farke had suggested his side win more points without the Argentinian but, with reward tending to require significant risk in straits like these, back he came into a team that had recently struggled to score from open play.
If Norwich’s gloves were off, Leicester’s punch was theoretically dulled by the news that a calf injury had kept Jamie Vardy at home. They still began brightly in a game that zipped agreeably from end to end, an unmarked Hamza Choudhury heading over James Maddison’s corner in the seventh minute. Maddison was applauded by both sets of fans as he placed the ball; he was the darling of these parts before his £25m move in June 2018 and, given that the money was vital in helping Farke shore up the squad that swept to promotion last year, neither party can be said to have fared badly since.
Norwich have not wanted for playmakers in his absence and their latest addition, Ondrej Duda, dictated their best early work. The loanee from Hertha Berlin delivered for Ben Godfrey to nod straight at Kasper Schmeichel and then, midway through the first half, slipped Teemu Pukki through only for Caglar Soyuncu to intervene. There was no faulting their tempo on a pitch that had seen a day of rain and, as both Soyuncu and Ricardo Pereira discovered when crudely curtailing home forays, was unforgiving to mistimed lunges.
A more positive contribution from Pereira almost brought the opening goal when, after a lung-busting overlap, his cross was diverted on to the outside of the near post by an onrushing Dennis Praet. For the first time a pattern was developing, Leicester beginning to find their men crisply and asking most of the questions. Ayoze Pérez twisted to the byline and forced Grant Hanley to hack behind before obliging Tim Krul to grab on to a daisycutter. The best opening of all came to Vardy’s replacement, Kelechi Iheanacho, but he turned and slashed over from seven yards after controlling Pérez’s cross. An engaging enough opening period would not bring end product to match.
That appeared to have been put right within four minutes of the restart when Iheanacho, latching on to a long pass before cutting inside and curling brilliantly past Krul, found his bearings in style. But it quickly became apparent that the ball had hit his arm before he took aim and the VAR decision to disallow the goal, confirmed at some length by the Stockley Park-based Graham Scott, was correct under the current numbingly austere application of the rules. Norwich have felt ill-served by the technology all season, though they are hardly alone, and the pleasure in the stands at seeing a decision go their way was keenly felt.
It had nothing on the joy when Lewis, with his first Premier League goal, speared an exquisite finish across Schmeichel. Norwich had seized the initiative after Iheanacho’s disappointment, Duda twice forcing good saves from the Leicester keeper. Their tails were up and, when Max Aarons crossed beyond everyone from the right, Lewis had space to control and set his sights. His technique in cutting across the ball was flawless and now Norwich could sense daylight.
The surprise was that Leicester, who are manifestly not the outfit that looked unstoppable during the autumn, offered so little in response. They cannot take a Champions League place for granted on this evidence and failed to carve out the chance that might further their claim, leaving Carrow Road daring to dream.