November 18, 2012
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Pilkington leaves Man United reeling

Manchester United spurned an opportunity to regain first place in the Premier League table when they were stunned 1-0 at Norwich City on Saturday.

Last year's champions Manchester City had moved to the top of the table earlier in the afternoon thanks to a 5-0 home victory over Aston Villa.

And a header on the hour by Norwich winger Anthony Pilkington -- a former United trainee -- ended up consigning Alex Ferguson's side to their third defeat of the season after only 12 matches.

United were forced to do without Wayne Rooney because of tonsilitis but fellow striker Robin van Persie had been passed fit after missing a mid-week international friendly because of a thigh strain.

Anders Lindegaard kept goal for the visitors, with youngster Sam Johnstone on the bench because David de Gea had to visit the dentist because of a swollen jaw.

The visitors made a bright start, with van Persie forcing Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy into an early save as Roy Hodgson, the England manager, watched from the stands.

Norwich replied with efforts from Robert Snodgrass and Pilkington that only narrowly failed to hit the target and that was also the case at the other end, where Ryan Giggs' corner was hit first time by van Persie.

Snodgrass was involved in much of the home side's best moments before the break and fired in a shot on the turn that went wide.

United were lacking urgency although Ashley Young's corner might have led to an opener but Patrice Evra, having got goal-side of his marker, completely missed his header.

Snodgrass once again went close, this time with a header, before Norwich's ex-Manchester City man Javier Garrido fired an angled effort across goal and wide.

Norwich captain Grant Holt was denied an opener by Chris Smalling's timely block after more good work on the right by Snodgrass, but it was United who finished the first half the stronger.

The Canaries were grateful that van Persie could make no connection at all after Giggs' long ball had dropped over his shoulder in front of goal and Ruddy's reputation was enhanced by another good save, this time to deny Young.

The second half began with van Persie failing to get the connection he wanted following another ball over the top of the home defence, but he recovered to force Ruddy into a save.

United continued to play at a slow tempo and were punished on the hour mark when they failed to deal with a swift Norwich attack.

Wes Hoolahan teed Garrido up for a cross from the left that Pilkington -- having arrived ahead of Chris Smalling -- headed high past Lindegaard.

With 20 minutes remaining, United made a double change, with Antonio Valencia and the disappointing Javier Hernandez replaced by the 38-year-old Paul Scholes and Danny Welbeck.

Welbeck immediately saw a header deflected around a post and soon afterwards forced Ruddy into a save with another.

United piled on the pressure to the end and Ruddy had to tip over a header from his own defender, Sebastien Bassong, after substitute Jonny Howson had missed a chance to make it 2-0 at the other end when put through with only Lindegaard to beat.

The final whistle sparked joyous celebrations from the home fans, who have seen their side improve steadily after a shaky start to the season under new manager Chris Hughton.

AFP

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