Boot is on the other foot for Norwich City
MILLWALL 1, NORWICH CITY 1: Millwall’s former home was often referred to by its postal address of Cold Blow Lane – and on Tuesday night, less than a quarter of a mile away, another cold blow was administered to Norwich City and their supporters.
The Canaries, backed vociferously by nearly 1,400 travelling fans on a bitter evening at The Den – the “New” having now been dropped from the name of the stadium the Lions have occupied since 1993 – were poised for their fourth Championship away victory of the season thanks to midfielder David Fox’s first goal for the club.
But with 30 seconds remaining of the fourth and final minute of injury time, the hosts were awarded their eighth corner of the night. Winger James Henry, who had a loan spell with City three seasons ago, swung the kick over right-footed, skipper Paul Robinson appeared to help it on and 18-year-old John Marquis, standing almost on the line, knocked it in gleefully to salvage a point and deny the visitors the extra two.
City boss Paul Lambert and some of his players felt Marquis, making his first full appearance in the absence of three senior strikers, was offside, but referee Mark Haywood was unmoved. It was a blow, all right, and below the belt.
The possible injustice of which the Canaries were victims provided an ironic twist after they had rescued a point at home to Burnley just three days earlier with a stoppage-time goal from Andrew Crofts that most observers felt should have been disallowed for handball.
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Crofts was missing last night through suspension after being shown two yellow cards against Burnley and, in a game of few clear-cut chances, it was his replacement, Fox, who put the Canaries ahead in the 75th minute with a powerful rising shot after substitute Matt Gill’s throw-in dropped to him just inside the Millwall penalty area.
While City had dropped two places to seventh in the table after their 2-2 draw at the weekend, they returned to fifth spot courtesy of the point they gained against Kenny Jackett’s side last night, some consolation for their late setback and an indication of just how tight the division remains with more than a third of the season played.
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In fairness, Millwall had enjoyed the slightly better openings in the first half, when City goalkeeper John Ruddy saved from both Danny Shittu – once a triallist at Colney – and Marquis.
But the Canaries seldom looked under threat in the second period, especially after Fox had given them the lead.
With seven senior players missing and Fox, Chris Martin and Anthony McNamee – the three substitutes used against Burnley – all promoted to the starting line-up, it was an unfamiliar combination sent out by Lambert but they started assuredly enough.
The first real opening came in the ninth minute when Holt found Chris Martin in the inside-right channel and his low shot was pushed past the post by diving goalkeeper David Forde.
Millwall gradually found their feet and in the 21st minute Ruddy had to dive to his right to keep out a powerful Shittu shot at the expense of a corner.
Midway through the half, the game became a little bad-tempered as both Chris Martin and skipper Grant Holt clashed with Shittu, and referee Mark Haywood had to call the captains together to calm things down.
But the Lions finished the first period in the ascendancy and twice might have taken the lead.
Henry missed a decent chance to break the deadlock three minutes before half-time when he shot over from the lively Danny Schofield’s cross. Then Ruddy made saved a Marquis header, following a cross from Henry.
After the break, Millwall’s Lewis Grabban wasted one opening when he fired into the side netting after Liam Trotter put him through, and there were appeals for handball when a cross by Grabban struck Simon Lappin, employed at left-back in the absence of injured pair Adam Drury and Steven Smith.
Millwall made their first change on the hour when Darren Ward, brother of City defender Elliott, arrived at centre-half, with Shittu pushed into attack alongside Marquis. City then made a double change with Gill and Simeon Jackson replacing McNamee and Hoolahan, who had both had relatively quiet evenings by their own standards.
Korey Smith produced one of Norwich’s few shots on target after 72 minutes when set up by Chris Martin, but while Forde saved Smith’s effort, he had no chance three minutes later when Fox put the Canaries ahead with a superb finish.
Gill’s throw from the left-hand side was headed out but only as far as Fox, who thumped a powerful rising shot past Forde.
Millwall full-back Alan Dunne forced Ruddy into action with a long-range shot with seven minutes left, but when Henry pulled another chance wide, it appeared City would hold on.
Skipper Holt shot wide after powering through at the other end in a bid to wrap up the points, but there was still time for one last roar from the Lions – and a City team that has scored half a dozen times after the 90-minute mark this season was suddenly on the receiving end.
Three successive games without victory is a rare phenomenon for City under Lambert, one not experienced since the early weeks of his tenure in September 2009, when City in fact had a four-match winless run in League One. Reading will be next to test their resolve – after they have dealt with small matter of entertaining second-placed Cardiff tonight.