A FIRST-HALF GOAL goal from Demba Ba was enough to give Newcastle a hard-fought home Premier League win over Norwich on Sunday.
The visitors had started the contest well, and had a number of chances early on, with Robert Snodgrass’ effort being cleared off the line by the home defence at the Sports Direct Arena.
But Newcastle’s impressive midfield play, particularly through Hatem Ben Arfa, allowed them to overpower their opponents, and they survived a few scares to hold out for all three points.
Norwich went into the game having won just one of their last nine games, and despite the pressure on Chris Hughton, the home crowd welcomed back their former manager with open arms.
And it was the Canaries who started the game the brighter of the two sides, looking to use their wide players to expose the Newcastle defence.
They suffered a blow after just seven minutes, though, Sebastien Bassong having to be replaced after suffering a hamstring injury. His replacement, ex-Sunderland defender Michael Turner, didn’t receive such a favourable reception.
The first chance of the game produced its first goal, and came against the run of play, as the home side went on their first real attack.
Ben Arfa cut in from the right, after being given too much space, before playing a delightful chipped pass through the middle for Ba, who coolly slotted the ball past the advancing Ruddy.
And it would be Ben Arfa again who would deliver the game’s next opportunity, as he nearly went from provider to goalscorer on 22 minutes. The former Lille man was inches away from latching on to a pass, but missed the ball as he tried to lob Ruddy.
Norwich remained a threat on the break, though, and soon produced another chance. A swift Canaries break down the left flank saw Andrew Surman’s cross met strongly by Snodgrass, whose header beat Steve Harper but not Mike Williamson, who did well to hack the ball off the line.
Newcastle continued to look the more likely, however, and on 30 minutes, the Norwich defence was having trouble of its own.
Steven Taylor’s header was met by Turner on the Norwich goalline with Williamson lurking for a tap-in.
Despite the match having not yet reached half-time, there was already looking to be a clear contender for man of the match – Ben Arfa. More fantastic play from the Frenchman saw him run past Surman before slipping a precise pass into the path of Ba, but the striker couldn’t connect, allowing Ruddy to pick up the pieces.
With the visitors looking to see the game out until the break, clumsy defending by Turner gave Newcastle the chance to double their lead. The Norwich centre-back barging into Williamson in the box, making the referee’s decision an easy one.
Out-of-sorts striker Papiss Cisse stepped up to take the spot kick, but blazed over, leaving his side with a narrow lead going into the second period.
Norwich began the second half as they had started the first. Almost immediately, Surman should have levelled the scores, but was foiled by Harper, after Wes Hoolahan had threaded a pass through the Newcastle defence.
Ben Arfa also carried on where he left off though, once again cutting inside and firing a low effort, which was well saved by Ruddy on 56 minutes.
Both sides continued to slug it out in midfield without creating many clear cut opportunities, with the Newcastle backline looking solid.
The match ended in a scrappy fashion as Norwich continued to press, with players from both sides receiving yellow cards for respective poor challenges.