Adventures of Huckerby and Finn
RICK WAGHORN Norwich City 2, Derby County 0: A wonderful 83rd minute strike from man of the match Darren Huckerby rounded off an excellent week for Nigel Worthington's rebuilt City side with a 2-0 win over Derby County. With the atmosphere at Carrow Road proving to be a vast improvement on the edgy cauldron of silence that greeted the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion, City's long suffering supporters got their due reward with a much improved Norwich effort that saw keeper Robert Green barely have a save to make.
Norwich City 2, Derby County 0
A wonderful 83rd minute strike from man of the match Darren Huckerby rounded off an excellent week for Nigel Worthington's rebuilt City side with a 2-0 win over Derby County.
With the atmosphere at Carrow Road proving to be a vast improvement on the edgy cauldron of silence that greeted the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion, City's long suffering supporters got their due reward with a much improved Norwich effort that saw keeper Robert Green barely have a save to make.
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At the other end Jonatan Johansson calmed a few first-half nerves with a 26th minute tap-in before Huckerby allowed everyone to sit back off the edge of their seats seven minutes from time with a glorious 22-yard strike for his eighth goal of the season.
In theory, it ensured that City's dreams of a last-gasp ticket to the play-offs continued. And while in practice they may yet fall slightly short, today's performance did at least set them off to Crystal Palace next week in good heart and improving form as a team finally began to emerge from a troubled and difficult period in the club's history.
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As the two teams ran out for this afternoon's telling fixture, one thing was swiftly obvious - the improvement in the Carrow Road atmosphere following Tuesday night's bitter and poisonous feelings between all concerned.
That said it was clear that everyone was in desperate need for an improved performance to match a similar result if City's wretched season was to show any signs of improvement.
There was also a warm welcome back for Rams' full-back Marc Edworthy on his first return to Carrow Road following his summer switch.
Interestingly, having played of late at left-back, the prospect of marking his big pal Darren Huckerby found the former Canary defender reverting to his more accustomed role at right-back.
As for the Canaries, for the first time in a long, long while, under-pressure boss Nigel Worthington was able to name an unchanged starting line-up for the third consecutive game - the one change that there was came on the substitute's bench where Jurgen Colin replaced Dickson Etuhu in order to cover for a potential recurrence of Craig Fleming's hip problems.
With the Canaries kicking off attacking the Norwich and Peterborough Stand it was a subdued opening enlivened only by a third minute booking for Canary striker Peter Thorne for a late challenge on Rams' skipper Inigo Idiakez.
The first moment of real note City-wise arrived in the sixth minute when £2.75m new boy Rob Earnshaw produced a wonderful flick and turn away from Idiakez only for his subsequent shot to spin well wide of the target.
At the other end Danny Graham had Derby's best moment when he robbed a dozing Youssef Safri before drilling high over the bar.
By rights, however, City should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when Huckerby fired a free-kick deep towards the far post where Jonatan Johansson lurked. His first-time header was directed at across a gaping Derby goalmouth where Thorne lurked - only for his diving header to angle away from goal. Even then it appeared as if Earnshaw would add to his two goal haul on Tuesday night. In the end, however, such excitement counted for little as the linesman's flag waved the chance offside.
Johansson had an equally clear sight of goal moments later when he got the better of Jeff Kenna only for his second touch to push the ball too far ahead of him and to enable the covering Darren Moore to clear for a corner.
The linesman's flag halted Norwich's next attack in its tracks as another Huckerby cross found an unmarked Earnshaw heading goalward.
On 26 minutes, however, City got their due reward for the brighter start when Johansson's second goal for his new club gave City the lead.
The move began at the feet of the much maligned Andy Hughes whose first time ball to the feet of Huckerby enabled the Canary winger to fly forward. His low cross was missed by at least two Derby defenders en route to a lurking Earnshaw who showed excellent vision to pick out his strike partner Thorne at the far post. His header at across goal looked to be drifting just wide before Johansson dived in, in front of Lee Camp's left hand post and guided the ball home.
In fairness it was all Norwich deserved for their bright and effective opening and, hopefully, the goal would do much to settle the nerves of both players and supporters alike.
The crowd were back on their feet again in the 31st minute when Huckerby and Drury combined to thrilling effect to unlock the Derby defence with the City winger finally driving a low shot towards the far corner. Camp's one-handed save looked merely to have presented the ball to a lurking Earnshaw, only for a linesman's flag to raise as the Welsh international first missed his kick and watched as Johansson smashed a shot against the underside of the bar.
In the 33rd minute Norwich were forced into their first substitution of the afternoon when Hughes limped towards the tunnel. In fairness to the City supporters his departure was marked with a warm round of applause - for all the right reasons. In his stead came Carl Robinson.
The only sour note as the game headed towards the half-time mark, was a further Canary booking - this time for Safri for what one suspected was a case of persistent fouling.
With Gary Doherty in particular, in commanding form at the heart of the City defence, Green's goal was rarely threatened and when it was - as in the case of an Idiakez free-kick in the 39th minute, City's England World Cup hopeful continued to look in commanding form.
Two minutes before the break and Green had one rare moment of alarm when Idiakez again managed to squeeze a 22-yard free-kick around the Canary wall but once again the City No 1 dealt comfortably with the chance as the Canaries held on to their 1-0 advantage through to the interval.
As the second half opened it was Norwich who were first out of the traps as Thorne twice went close to testing Camp in the Rams' goal.
In fairness, however, to the visitors, they enjoyed a good five minute spell of their own thereafter and came perilously close to levelling when centre-half Tomasz Hajto met a 53rd minute corner, only for his downward header to be blocked by Robinson.
Norwich then had their own chance to level when Safri swung an excellent 55th minute free-kick deep towards the Derby far post where Doherty arrived on cue with a thumping header that Camp did well to palm wide for a corner.
With tempers starting to slightly fray Smith became the first Derby player to be booked when he clattered into Safri late and duly saw yellow in the 57th minute.
City had a glorious chance to put the contest beyond Derby's reach in the 63rd minute when Earnshaw forced Hajto into a missed placed pass that set the Welsh international free. As he darted into the Derby box so three white shirts converged on the Canary front man, only for the ball to eventually pop out to the overlapping Huckerby who from 18-yards out, could only scuff a horrid shot wide.
A second goal would certainly settle everyone's nerves, although in fairness to the Carrow Road crowd, they appeared to be in a far more buoyant mood than was evident on Tuesday night.
Derby's clearest chance of the game thus far arrived on the 70th minute when Adam Bolder for once gave Zesh Rehman the slip at the heart of the City defence and as Green advanced, so there were huge sighs of relief when he clipped it high over the Norwich bar.
That prompted Derby's first change of the afternoon when one-time City loan signing Paul Peschisolido replaced Lee Holmes. Three minutes later with the game held up through another injury, Norwich made their second switch when, for the third successive game, Paul McVeigh replaced Johansson.
From the action on the Canary bench it looked as if McKenzie's arrival would not be too long delayed as he prepared for his latest second half appearance.
In the 76th minute McKenzie duly arrived in the place of Thorne who, like Johansson moments earlier, was granted a warm round of applause on his exit.
Two minutes later and the Huckerby show really kicked off as he produced a fabulous surging run down the left before twisting the lumbering Darren Moore this way and that en route to sending a teasing cross into the Derby box where an acrobatic volley from Earnshaw flew just over.
Four minutes later and Carrow Road was on its feet to salute a real special. The newly arrived McVeigh laid the ball back into Huckerby's feet and from some 22-yards out, he unleashed a wonderful shot that flew high into the top right hand corner of Camp's net. It was a goal fit to grace any game and in all likelihood, ensured that another three points would be Worthington's come the end of the afternoon.
With the game deep into injury time Derby had one final chance to grab a consolation goal, only for Peschisolido's tame drive to land squarely in Green's waiting arms. It was a rare save from the Canary keeper as the Rams struggled to stretch the Canary No 1.
At the other end the arrival of McVeigh and McKenzie had stretched a tiring Derby defence this way and that. But there was no doubting as to the star of the show with that 83rd minute thumping strike.