Rhodes the hero for City as double substitution earns crucial draw away to promotion rivals West Brom
Daniel Farke’s late double substitution proved absolutely pivotal as Norwich City salvaged what could prove to be a vital point in the promotion race at West Brom – thanks to Jordan Rhodes’ late goal.
The Baggies had dominated the first half and deservedly led through Dwight Gayle’s 12th minute goal but Farke’s decision to put Rhodes and Kenny McLean on in the 81st minute paid off quickly, with McLean crossing and Rhodes gobbling up the chance gleefully in front of the travelling supporters.
It was Rhodes’ first touch of the ball – and his ninth goal of the season, despite mostly featuring as a substitute – but keeper Tim Krul was absolutely crucial with three fine saves, two when City were still trailing and another in injury-time to hang on for the draw.
With Sheffield United winning 1-0 at home to QPR it meant the Canaries slipped to third on goal difference to the Blades, who come to Carrow Road at the end of this month, but extended their unbeaten league away run to 12 matches.
City made two changes to their league starting XI, with fit-again duo Jamal Lewis and Emi Buendia starting, with Ben Godfrey moving into the centre of defence but Timm Klose fit enough for the bench.
The hosts made five changes, with 13-goal striker Gayle and Egypt international defender Ahmed Hegazi returning – and Canaries legend Wes Hoolahan on the bench.
The hosts controlled the first half and took the lead in just the 12th minute, with Everton loanee Mason Holgate causing problems on the right and crossing low.
Ever the poacher, former Newcastle striker Gayle got across Ben Godfrey and poked home at the near post, giving Krul no chance.
Within a minute the same situation unfolded and Holgate crossed from the right but Max Aarons managed to clear with Chris Brunt waiting to pull the trigger.
Jay Rodriguez had Krul scrambling in the 18th minute with a low shot drilled just beyond the far post, as the Canaries struggled to get a foothold in the game.
They did steady themselves though and only a superb save from home keeper Sam Johnstone denied Teemu Pukki in the 32nd minute, the City striker nodding down an Alex Tettey cross from the left but seeing Johnstone tip the ball around his post at full stretch.
Hal Robson-Kanu also fired just wide for the Baggies before the break but the Canaries scrambled their way to half-time still in the game at 1-0 down.
It took two excellent Krul stops to keep the score that close in the first couple of minutes of the second half though, firstly tipping a curling Brunt shot over his bar and then superbly denying Gareth Barry’s effort at his near post from the resulting corner with a strong hand.
Gayle fired just over 10 minutes into the half but there were signs of life from Norwich, with sharper movement and passing from the forward line.
All of a sudden thinks got feisty, with three yellow cards inside two minutes, Baggies players Gareth Barry and Rodriguez for poor tackles on Todd Cantwell and Aarons respectively, then City attacker Buendia for dissent – as the volume cranked up at The Hawthorns.
Dennis Srbeny replaced Buendia in the 67th minute and within 60 seconds turned sharply into space and tested Johnstone with a low shot from 25 yards.
Onel Hernandez nutmegged Craig Dawson soon after – right in front of the delighted 2,700 strong travelling support – but his cross was cleared and a minute later Dawson miscued a header to allow Pukki through on goal, only for City’s top scorer to get his shot all wrong.
Holgate fired a rising shot just over the bar for Albion in the 74th minute, before the Canaries rolled the dice with a double substitution in the 81st minute, with Cantwell and Lewis replaced by Rhodes and McLean – and it paid off almost immediately.
Gayle stupidly fouled Hernandez near the corner flag on the right, after Farke had switched to a 3-5-2 shape. McLean’s initial free-kick was cleared back to him but his fresh attempt towards the near post was prodded in by fellow substitute Rhodes from point-blank range.
It was a ninth goal of the campaign in all competitions for the Sheffield Wednesday loanee, his sixth in the league, and brought an end to a run of nine games without a goal.
Gayle was soon hauled off for his part in the goal and Albion poured forward, with Krul making another absolutely crucial save from Robson-Kanu in the first minute of added time.
Holgate twice went close with injury-time shots but the Canaries held out for a point which could prove hugely important to their hopes of staying in the automatic promotion race, keeping their opponents below them in the table.
The Canaries return to action on Friday night when they host play-off chasing Birmingham City at Carrow Road, in a televised 7.45pm kick-off.
Norwich: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis (McLean 81); Tettey (C), Vrancic; Cantwell (Rhodes 81), Buendia (Srbeny 67), Hernandez; Pukki. Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Klose, Thompson, Trybull
Booked: Tettey (foul on Rodriguez, 56), Buendia (dissent, 62), Vrancic (foul on Holgate, 90+4), Krul (time-wasting, 90+5)
Goals: Rhodes (84)
West Brom: Johnstone; Holgate, Dawson, Hegazi, Gibbs; Harper, Barry, Brunt (C); Robson-Kanu (Leko 90+2), Rodriguez, Gayle (Sako 85). Unused subs: Bond (GK), Adarabioyo, Bartley, Hoolahan, Field
Booked: Barry (foul on Cantwell, 61), Rodriguez (foul on Aarons, 62)
Goals: Gayle (12)
Referee: Darren England (South Yorkshire)
Attendance: 26,544 sell-out (2,723 away)