Aaron Wilbraham’s first Premier League sparks Norwich City fightback
Norwich City lost 2-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday. The Canaries dominated possession throughout the game, but never recovered from giving away two early goals. City played much better in the second half, and Aaron Wilbraham’s first ever Premier League goal after 75 minutes sparked a final 20 minutes of incessant Norwich pressure, but they were unable to grab the equaliser.
Once again manager Lambert rang the changes in his formation for this game. With skipper Grant Holt suspended after his red card against Wolves, Morison started up front. Naughton and Surman returned to the starting line up, and Ryan Bennett made his first team debut in a Canary shirt. Hoolahan took the captain’s armband.
It soon became apparent that Norwich were playing three men (Whitbread, Ward and Bennett) at the back, with Martin and Naughton playing in a five-man midfield, supporting Morison as the lone striker and Hoolahan just behind him. For the first two minutes Fulham hardly touched the ball as the Canaries passed it around. But after three minutes the Lilywhites did gain possession, and although Ruddy saved Ruiz’s shot he could only palm it out into the path of the onrushing Dempsey who knocked the ball in with his thigh. Things went from bad to worse after 15 minutes when that man Dempsey set up Duff, who curled his shot past Ruddy. Fulham almost scored a third when Dempsey hit the inside of the post and Dembele followed up with a shot that was well blocked by Bennett. So much for the new defensive formation.
City continued to pass the ball around quite prettily but too often the ball went sideways in the crablike manner favoured by Ray Wilkins and Sammy Clingan. Too rarely did it go anywhere in the direction of, or even remotely threaten, the Fulham goal.
At half-time Lambert opted for a more attacking formation as Jackson replaced Whitbread. City reverted to a conventional back four, and came much more into the game. Howson was by now positively buzzing in midfield, and the excellent Hoolahan covering every blade of grass on the pitch. Ward, Hoolahan, and Howson all had chances which were missed, while for Fulham Kacaniklic hit the crossbar.
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After 68 minutes Morison, who had had an ineffective afternoon, was replaced by Wilbraham. The substitution proved to be inspired. Within minutes Wilbraham, took a pass from Hoolahan, cut inside, and scored his first ever Premier League goal, with his shot taking a deflection off Hughes. That goal sparked City into life and the final 20 minutes were both frantic and frenetic. On three occasions Wilbraham might have added to his tally. The 5,000-strong and vociferous Canary support urged their team on, but despite their efforts the equaliser would not come. Elliott Bennett replaced Fox with seven minutes left, and former Canary Dickson Etuhu made a cameo performance for Fulham in the last five minutes, during which he distinguished himself with malicious fouls on Hoolahan and Martin, which provoked a chorus of abuse and derision from the City fans. At least he was booked.
As so often happens BBC’s MOTD coverage did not do justice to an exciting game. They scheduled us last, showed no action from the twenty minutes after Wilbraham’s goal when Norwich dominated, offered no analysis of the match, apologised for running out of time, and left us with snide comments in the background. Typical of their contempt for clubs other than the so called big ones in London or Lancashire.
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So Fulham scored their first goals in four games and halted their run of three successive defeats. They also moved above Norwich in the table. City at least avoided a 6-0 defeat on this occasion and salvaged some pride with a spirited late rally. Norwich proved again how much they rely on Grant Holt for inspiration and goals. Wilbraham will be pleased with his contribution, and the City fans who witnessed it were too. It will be interesting to see which of his four strikers Lambert opts for next week against Everton at Carrow Road.
Now that the business end of the season is approaching, it was significant that there were wins for QPR, Bolton, and Wigan. At least Wolves lost again. City still need at least one win to be mathematically safe from relegation. It would be good to complete our resurrection from League One by winning three points at home next week. Happy Easter!