Manchester United remained top of the Premier League on Saturday after second-half goals from Anderson and Danny Welbeck secured a lacklustre 2-0 win over Norwich.
But despite the scoreline, it didn’t tell the full story at Old Trafford.
The off-colour home side struggled for long periods and were fortunate not to fall behind on countless occasions.
As it was, the visitors were eventually punished as Anderson headed home in the 68th minute before substitute Welbeck turned home Park Ji Sung’s cross with three minutes remaining to wrap up the points.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted the midweek Champions League draw with Basel, where his Manchester United side escaped with a 3-3 draw thanks to a late goal, was the wake-up call his players needed.
It appeared he wouldn’t take Norwich lightly, with the likes of Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez recalled to indicate there would be no sign of complacency.
But Ferguson wouldn’t have guarded against the start Norwich produced. They threatened on more than one occasion, underlining they wouldn’t be inhibited by the visit to the defending champions.
Norwich’s brave decision to relegate captain and striker Grant Holt to the substitutes’ bench appeared to be a shrewd move.
The more mobile Steve Morison, and his unselfish running, was proving a problem for the hosts. It almost resulted in a shock opening goal for the Canaries as Kyle Naughton’s burst ended in his cross being squeezed clear by Phil Jones.
It wasn’t the only scare. The sluggish hosts were becoming increasingly frustrated, with their final ball often misplaced or intercepted with Norwich’s five-man midfield blocking out any threat.
In fact, it took until the 35th minute for them to carve out their first opening of the afternoon when Rooney’s header from Nani’s corner just cleared the crossbar.
The set-piece had already caused problems, with Darren Fletcher being denied a rare goal by Marc Tierney’s goal line clearance just moments earlier.
But it was clear the home side were looking devoid of ideas and a few choice words from Ferguson would have been the order of the day.
Rooney was among those who appeared to be coasting and needed to step up his game. The England striker almost responded when his cleverly disguised pass found Anderson in space, only for the midfielder to lose his footing as he shot tamely wide.
While United were now firmly on the front foot, they ran the risk of being exposed defensively.
This was evident as Morison shrugged off the attentions of Jonny Evans but the Wales striker delayed his pass and Jones, not for the first time, timed his block to perfection in the 54th minute.
United continued to ride their luck as another breakaway resulted in Anthony Pilkington’s shot deflected into the grateful arms of goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard moments later.
Ferguson threw on Ryan Giggs and Welbeck in search of inspiration. Yet Norwich missed a golden chance to take the lead in the 65th minute.
Pilkington latched onto Antonio Valencia’s error. He slid the ball past Lindegaard but past the post.
That miss was to prove costly within free minutes when Anderson broke the deadlock for United, heading home his second goal of the season.
Norwich pushed forward in search of an equaliser but they were hit on the counter-attack in the 87th minute, with Welbeck sliding home from close-range as United escaped with a flattering win.
Watch video highlights below:
Manchester United 1-0 Norwich City (Anderson)
Manchester 2-0 Norwich City (Welbeck)