Freezer’s Five: Key observations from City’s last-gasp draw with Wednesday
PUBLISHED: 10:25 20 April 2019 | UPDATED: 14:58 20 April 2019
Our Norwich City correspondent David Freezer delivers his verdict after the Canaries’ dramatic 2-2 Championship draw with Sheffield Wednesday.
Super Mario to the rescue
Mario Vrancic has been so, so important to the Norwich City cause this season – but now the midfielder has written his name into Carrow Road legend.
After coming on for Tom Trybull in the 80th minute the Bosnian was fouled on the edge of the box, it was the leaders' last roll of the dice.
Did they have a get-out-of-jail card up their sleeve?
Vrancic certainly did and curled a sumptuous free-kick into the top-right corner with his classy left foot from just outside the D, leaving the Owls crestfallen after seeming so close to victory.
It was an eighth league goal of the campaign for the 29-year-old, four of which have been winners, who can now lay a major claim to a start at Stoke on Monday.
If City do seal the title, his strike will grow in significance and could well prove to be absolutely crucial.
Mission remains the same
City knew their mission at kick-off: win two of their final games and they are promoted, as champions.
That came courtesy of 10-man Wigan winning 2-1 at Leeds in a shock afternoon result, following Sheffield United moving up to second on goal difference after a 2-0 home win over Nottingham Forest at lunchtime.
Both were four points behind and after City rescued a dramatic draw to move five points clear, two wins remains the aim to seal the deal. Get those and City will be in the Premier League.
The Blades go to Hull on Monday at 3pm, the same time Norwich are at Stoke, and Leeds are at Brentford at 5.15pm. If either of their closest rivals fail to win then the Canaries will be promoted as long as they win in Staffordshire on Monday – and if both falter, it would also seal the title.
Krul's major role
Fernando Forestieri looked like he was about to be celebrating another fine goal – after an absolutely sublime long-range equaliser had left Tim Krul with no chance – only to be denied by one of the City number one's best saves of the season.
Christoph Zimmermann made a fine block to deny a George Boyd shot in the 51st minute but the ball dropped kindly to the Italian striker 20 yards out and he rifled an effort towards the top-right corner.
Yet the Dutchman flung himself through the air and stuck out a hopeful left hand and turned the ball over his crossbar at full stretch.
Who'd be a keeper though? Less than three minutes later and a hopeful cross comes in from the left, misses everyone and Steven Fletcher is able to slide in at the back post and bundle in with more than a hint of handball, to Krul's fury.
There was another fine denial of Fletcher at full stretch in the 69th minute though, after the Scot drilled a shot goalwards from the edge of the box, and it proved crucial to City's salvage job.
The former Newcastle star has had some tough moments but the Carrow Road faithful gave him their full backing on a night when he proved his class in the heat of battle.
Stiepermann a driving force
The re-emergence of Marco Stiepermann as a top quality attacking midfielder was perhaps showing a few signs of slowing during the draws with Reading and Wigan.
The German showed he was up for the fight with a strong and determined display at the heart of City's attacks against the Owls though, thumping home a fine opener.
Stiepermann exchanged a nice one-two with Hernandez and then allowed the ball to roll across his path from the right to open up the shooting chance, before unleashing a drilled effort into the bottom-right corner with his trusty left foot, with the pace of the shot beating Cameron Dawson.
He'd also been denied in the 10th minute after the Wednesday keeper had bizarrely handled outside his area and narrowly avoided a red card, smashing goalwards through the wall from the free-kick but being denied by the keeper punching upwards.
Eight goals and seven assists from 40 league matches is a very healthy return for a player who spent most of his game time at left-back last season and he was a driving force, in a hectic game.
A memorable atmosphere
City fans had been asked to drive their team on and they well and truly responded. Not just the opening couple of minutes as the game settled but continuing to roar loudly throughout the first half, even joining forces with the away fans to chant anti-Leeds songs during the televised clash.
The colourful flags had spread to the Barclay upper as a huge 'Norwich – a fine city' banner was unfurled in the lower tier and there were green and yellow scarves all around Carrow Road as On The Ball City was drilled into the night sky ahead of kick-off.
And then of course there was THAT Vrancic free-kick, sparking wild celebrations of relief to rival those against Millwall and Nottingham Forest earlier in the campaign.
You're almost guaranteed entertainment and late drama in NR1 this season but the timing of the goal was almost unbelievable, just when a confidence-shaking defeat looked imminent, instantly turning the mood.
The importance of the strike was reflected in the amount of fans who stuck around to applaud their team and celebrate with Daniel Farke in his customary way. They know how well their team have already done, it's just about driving them over the line now.