One comeback too far

Associated Press Posted: Nov 19, 2012 at 0210 hrs
Norwich, England Norwich inflicted Manchester United’s third loss in the English Premier League on Saturday, winning 1-0 to ensure that Alex Ferguson’s side was overtaken atop the standings by Manchester City. Despite coming back to win eight of 12 games after conceding early goal, United couldn’t do so on Sunday.

Former United youth team player Anthony Pilkington headed in Wes Hoolahan’s cross on the hour at Carrow Road. “It’s a great day for Norwich and it’s a massive win for us,’’ Pilkington said. “We’ve been performing well over the last few weeks and we showed today.”

United fell one point behind champion City, which routed Aston Villa 5-0 earlier in the day, while Norwich moved five points clear of the drop zone.

Without striker Wayne Rooney because of tonsillitis, the Red Devils produced a largely lackluster display as Norwich produced another composed effort to secure a third win in five EPL games.

But it was a lively start by United as Robin van Persie created the first opening inside three minutes, turning to drive in a low shot from the edge of the Norwich penalty area which goalkeeper John Ruddy palmed away low to his right.

United continued to have all the possession, and enjoyed plenty of time on the ball as the home side sat deep.

Norwich, though, showed some life in attack when Hoolahan floated a ball over from the left, which winger Robert Snodgrass diverted just over the angle with a backward header.

A sweeping move switched play from the right out to Pilkington, who then released left back Javier Garrido, and his low center flashed across the face of Anders Lindegaard’s goal.

Norwich grew in confidence and it needed a saving tackle from Chris Smalling to prevent captain Grant Holt from tapping in Snodgrass’ low cross after the Scotland winger got past Rio Ferdinand into the right side of the United penalty area.

Then, Ryan Giggs, who scored a last-minute winner here last season, floated in a fine ball behind the Norwich backline, but Van Persie missed his kick when attempting an acrobatic volley.

At the end of the first half, Young drilled in a low effort at the back post from a corner, which Ruddy turned behind from point-blank range.

After the break, Norwich was on top and was rewarded on the hour with a goal of real quality. Garrido was played in on the overlap down the left by Hoolahan, and his perfectly weighed cross was glanced over Lindegaard into the top corner by Pilkington.

Ferguson had seen enough and within 10 minutes, veteran midfielder Paul Scholes, who turned 38 on Friday, and England striker Danny Welbeck were off the bench, replacing Antonio Valencia and the ineffective Javier Hernandez.

It didn’t make a difference as Norwich claimed another big win this season, having beaten Arsenal a month ago.

Earlier yesterday, Premier League champions Manchester City took advantage of their rivals’ mistakes with a 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa and Chelsea lost 2-1 at West Brom. Reading, who started the day in the bottom three, surprised Everton 2-1.

Barca’s record start alive

In Spain, Lionel Messi netted his eighth brace of the season and created a third goal to steer Barcelona to a 3-1 win over a feisty Real Zaragoza as the Spanish league leaders kept alive their club-record start.

Unbeaten Barcelona’s 11th victory in 12 rounds maintained its eight-point lead over Real Madrid after the defending champions thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-1. On Sunday, second-place Atletico Madrid visits Granada six points behind Barca.

Bilbao entered Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with the third-worst defense in the league, having allowed 21 goals, and only a strong performance by goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz saved it from a historic rout. Madrid jumped in front in the 16th when defender Jon Aurtenetxe scored an own goal when trying to stop Karim Benzema from shooting after he latched onto Luka Modric’s long pass.

Ronaldo ‘unbuyable’

Cristiano Ronaldo would always be welcomed back to play for Manchester United but manager Alex Ferguson doubts he will return because the Real Madrid man is now unbuyable. The Portuguese forward, 27, left for Real Madrid for a world record fee of 80 million in July 2009. “I’d like to think the door would always be open for him, but I don’t think it will happen,” Ferguson said. “You’re talking about incredible amounts of money now. He’s definitely unbuyable. Who could afford to buy him?”