Premier League - Unsteady United scrape win over Norwich
Manchester United maintained their slender lead at the top of the Premier League table after they scraped a 2-0 win over Norwich City at Old Trafford.
The champions were noticeably under-par as they toiled against a purposeful Norwich side who spurned several good opportunities to score before goals in the final quarter of the match from Anderson and Danny Welbeck secured the points.
The result means United top the standings by the slenderest of margins, by virtue of their goal difference being just one superior to that of local rivals Manchester City. Both sides lead the table with 19 points.
United made six changes to the side that drew 3-3 with Basel on the same ground in the Champions League on Tuesday. Wayne Rooney returned after recovering from a hamstring strain while goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard came into the team for his Premier League debut ahead of David de Gea and Ashley Young was left out of the squad entirely. Antonio Valencia was again at right-back while Jonny Evans partnered Phil Jones in the centre of defence instead of Rio Ferdinand.
The newly-promoted Canaries were certainly not fazed by their first visit to Old Trafford in more than six years. Considering they won 2-0 the last time they came to Manchester, they had every right to feel at ease in setting about their game plan.
They could have been ahead after four minutes when Elliott Bennett raced into space down the right wing and got to the byline. He tried to pick out Steve Morison with a ball across the six-yard box, but the pass was intercepted by the retreating Jones.
Morison was revelling in his role as lone front man against an uncertain United defence, with Evans in particular a weak link that the forward repeatedly showed up. The Wales international took a ball forward on his chest and shrugged off the Northern Ireland defender before firing a shot through his legs that flashed wide of the far post.
With Young missing from the United attack the home side lacked a great deal of pace and creativity in their play, despite the presence of both Nani and Valencia. Rooney mistimed his leap to send a header over from a corner before showing great tenacity to shrug off a challenge from the impressive Marc Tierney and fire a strike in from distance. Nani fired wide after working the space for himself on the outside of the box just before the break, but half-time was called with the two sides deservedly level.
Paul Lambert's side maintained their rigorous adherence to their system after the break, and it should have paid dividends for them. After two counter-attacks in quick succession had the hosts on the back foot, Anthony Pilkington spurned a chance he may never forget. The former Huddersfield winger capitalised on Valencia's dithering at the back and went through one-on-one with Lindegaard, but could only fire wide as the young Danish keeper spread himself well.
In what felt like a familiar plot twist at old Trafford, United opened the scoring just moments after that miss. Ryan Giggs and Welbeck had not long been introduced from the bench, and the former won a 68th-minute corner. The veteran floated the set piece to the far post where Jones headed it back across Rooney, who flicked it on for Anderson to nod past goalkeeper John Ruddy from close range.
Undeterred, Norwich continued to press and Pilkington saw another strike deflect off Anderson and leave Lindegaard stranded, only for the ball to rebound off the post and into the safety of the keeper's arms.
United wrapped up a most unconvincing victory three minutes from time in clinical manner when Welbeck and Park Ji-Sung exchanged passes on the edge of the box and the England striker swept the ball past Ruddy.
The win was United's 19th home victory in a row, extending their club record, but the history books will not show how close they came to getting nothing from this game.