Canaries fire blanks again

Sheffield Wednesday 1, Norwich City 0: A moment of defensive madness on the stroke of half-time cost Norwich City at least a share of the points at Hillsborough today as the Canaries slipped to a 1-0 defeat.

Sheffield Wednesday 1, Norwich City 0

A moment of defensive madness on the stroke of half-time cost Norwich City at least a share of the points at Hillsborough today as the Canaries slipped to a 1-0 defeat.

Having mastered all that the relegation haunted Owls could throw at them in a much-improved away display following last weekend's Deepdale shocker, City were cruising towards the half-time whistle when centre-half partners Jason Shackell and Gary Doherty collided in all-too comical fashion and enabled Marcus Tudgay to spring clear and score the game's only goal off stand-in keeper Paul Gallacher.

And there was one further worry to emerge from today's trip north - the fact that prospective England World Cup keeper Robert Green failed to appear for the game after presumably injuring himself in the warm-up.

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Otherwise the 2000 travelling City supporters could take a dram or too of comfort from a solid first City start from youngster Michael Spillane, while the spirit generally appeared far more willing than on recent away days.

Indeed had a combination of Darren Huckerby and Ian Henderson actually managed to convert a glorious two-on-the-keeper chance as opposed to finding themselves offside midway through the first period, City could quite easily have wrapped up their first away win of 2006.

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As ever, however, it was yet another of those 'If only…' days.

True to his pre-match promises City boss Worthington handed two Canary players their first league start away at Sheffield Wednesday today - one half expected, one certainly not.

In at right-back for the club skipper Craig Fleming came Republic of Ireland International Michael Spillane; in at goalkeeper came Paul Gallacher - after regular City No 1 disappeared without trace presumably having injured himself in the warm up. It was an extraordinary start as the Canaries were forced into a hasty reshuffle with Simon Charlton suddenly finding himself on the bench, with City unable to field a second choice keeper. It certainly must have come as a shock to Gallacher, with the one-time Wednesday loan player having never made an appearance in his two years in Norfolk, and given that he is out of contract this summer, in every likelihood he never expected to.

Otherwise Worthington reverted back to the 4-5-1 formation which had served Norwich so well away at Leeds. The big difference was, however, that in the absence of the injured Leon McKenzie it was left to Robert Earnshaw to do the running up front with Dickson Etuhu, Carl Robinson and Andy Hughes providing the muscle in midfield. There was also a start for Ian Henderson on the right-hand side of midfield as he was preferred to the on-loan Jonathan Johansson.

Before the action started there was, however, a fitting and moving tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster 17 years ago to the day.

Once the game kicked off so it immediately gathered steam with both sides looking bright and eager in the early exchanges.

For Wednesday today was a 'must win' game if they were to finally nail their last fears of the drop, while for City it was more a case of giving the 2000 travelling Canary fans something to shout about on their travels.

Gallacher wasted little time in showing his worth with a fabulous one-handed save in the 10th minute. Chris Brunt swung a teasing cross in from the right where Burton had stolen half a yard ahead of both Gary Doherty and Jason Shackell. With the width of the goal to aim at and little more than eight yards out, the Owls striker looked odds-on to opening the scoring as he sent a decent header flying away to Gallagher's left. The City keeper was, however, alert to the danger as he flung himself high towards his upright and pushed the ball around the post.

Norwich responded immediately with a wonderful jinking run from Huckerby that eventually forced Wednesday into conceding a corner as the last defender bundled the ball away from safety. From Huckerby's subsequent corner Shackell rose highest at the far post only to see his downward header angle just wide of the left upright.

After the latest score from Selhurst Park flashed on to the scoreboard, where Palace had taken an early lead against Wednesday's nearest relegation rivals Crewe, the home side were being urged forward by their supporters as they looked to bury their fears of the drop once and for all.

In fairness, to Norwich, the City defence was holding firm with young Spillane twice getting in good challenges.

The first booking of the afternoon arrived in the 20th minute and belonged to Henderson as he dived in horribly late on centre-half Graham Coughlan and was duly - and quite correctly - handed the yellow card.

City's best opening arrived in the 22nd minute. Earnshaw dug the ball out from a clutch of Owls bodies to send Huckerby clean through on goal. As England Under 21 International keeper Scott Carson advanced, so Huckerby looked to have all the time and the opportunity he needed to put the visitors ahead - particularly when the one player he had for company was the supporting Henderson. Trouble was, however, that Henderson proved over eager and by the time Huckerby rolled the ball into his feet with an open goal gaping the Canary winger had strayed offside, and to the home faithful's glee up went the linesman's flag.

Nevertheless Norwich were still matching Wednesday move for move and looked a vastly improved outfit from the side that lost 2-0 at Preston last week.

The Canaries had to survive a big scare in the 35th minute when Burton O'Brien's free-kick was flicked on by Marcus Tudgay into the path of his strike partner Burton, who gained just enough time and space on his marker to stab a low, six-yard shot against the base of Gallacher's left-hand post.

Once again Norwich responded brightly with Etuhu setting off on a strong, surging run before releasing Huckerby away on the left. Once more the City winger twisted his way to the byline; once more he forced Wednesday into conceding a corner and nothing came of it. It was a sign of Wednesday's growing frustration at their inability to prise the Canaries apart that Brunt became the second player booked in the 45th minute for kicking the ball away.

Wednesday did not, however, have too much longer to wait for their opener as a reasonably harmless looking punt forward found Doherty and Shackell colliding together, all of which enabled an alert Tudgay to storm through. With City skipper Drury racing across to cover, Tudgay fired goalward, only to see his shot well saved by Gallacher. Unfortunately the ball merely rebounded up off the Canary keeper at an inviting height for Tudgay to lift a gentle, looping header back over Gallacher, and as the Scottish international keeper desperately back-pedalled in a bid to claw the ball off the line, so it had just too much momentum for the City No 1, and it duly nestled just inside his left-hand post.

It proved to be the last act of an entertaining first half with the Canaries once again guilty of gifting the opposition a goal after otherwise producing a much-improved display following last week's wretched trip to Deepdale.

As the second half opened, it was clear that Norwich had got the shock of that late first half opener out of their systems as they pressed forward with genuine purpose and menace. Indeed, for the first five minutes or so the Canaries were camped firmly in the Wednesday half as they attacked the Leppings Lane End where their supporters were gathered. Unfortunately clear sight of Scott Carson's goal remained few and far between as the likes of Huckerby, Earnshaw and Henderson looked for an opening.

Norwich's early enterprise was almost rewarded with a 54th minute leveller - all courtesy of good approach work from 17-year-old Spillane. A perfectly-timed overlapping run found the Academy prospect dropping an inviting near-post cross on to the head of a lurking Henderson. In the ensuing panic keeper Carson managed to spoon Henderson's initial effort away to safety only for a covering defence to put the ball back at Henderson's feet. Once again, the City winger took aim only for his shot again to be blocked at the last minute.

Two minutes later and with Wednesday struggling to get out of their own half, so boss Paul Sturrock made his first change of the afternoon with the anonymous Steve Adams being replaced by Glen Whelan.

In the 67th minute Sturrock made his second change with Jon-Paul McGovern replacing Brunt. There was also activity on the Norwich bench where Jarvis was given his chance, with Andy Hughes the one to make way. That prompted a switch back to 4-4-2 with Robinson and Etuhu taking the two central berths as Jarvis moved in alongside Earnshaw.

Jarvis' first moment of any real note arrived in the 73rd minute when he turned smartly on the edge of the Wednesday box only to slice his final shot well wide of the target.

City continued to press forward as Wednesday defended in numbers, but as ever clear-cut chances continued to elude the visiting team.

With eight minutes of the game remaining City had another scare on their hands, this time of the injury variety when Burton clattered into Gallacher. With no keeper on the bench there was a huge sigh of relief when Gallacher gingerly picked himself up and declared himself fit to continue. It still needed a smart block from Drury to thwart a McGovern effort albeit at the expense of a corner.

Four minutes from the end and Burton went even closer with a 20-yard, dipping volley that slammed against the base of Gallagher's right-hand post.

In the meantime, McVeigh replaced youngster Spillane who could look back with some pride on a solid first start in the Championship.

With three minutes to go substitute Whelan found himself in the book for a foul on Jarvis. The City substitute was not far from the action again a minute later when he latched onto a McVeigh throughball and found himself free through the inside-right channel.

With Earnshaw screaming for a centre, Jarvis opted instead for an ambitious cross-shot which skimmed well wide of the target.

With the fourth official announcing four minutes of added-on time, Wednesday fans knew they were just seconds away from securing their place in the Championship next season and a chorus of 'We are staying up! We are staying up!' greeted the final whistle.

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