Cardiff City F.C
Hanley 3, Cantwell 23
No Pukki no problem for Canaries as they move seven points clear at the top
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Norwich City moved seven points clear of their Championship promotion rivals as a confident first-half display ensured victory against Cardiff City in Wales.
Grant Hanley opened the scoring for the Canaries inside the opening five minutes before Todd Cantwell's added a second to cap off an impressive first-half display from the Championship pacesetters.
Joe Ralls' strike made it a nervy last 25 minutes for Daniel Farke's side as they pushed hard in search of a late equaliser. Despite substitute Kieffer Moore injecting a fresh impetus in the second-half, the hosts weren't able to relieve the pressure on their under-fire boss Neil Harris.
A side strain ruled Teemu Pukki out of the encounter and gifted a chance to Jordan Hugill to make his first league start for City since November. Goalkeeper Dan Barden was hoping to pick up where he left off after an impressive display in the FA Cup, the Welshman returned to home soil to make his first appearance from the off in the league.
Prior to kick-off, Tim Krul did announce on his social media that he had returned home following the conclusion of his 10-day isolation after testing positive for Covid, the Dutch international is expected to be in contention for the midweek visit of Bristol City.
City only named seven substitutes as Farke's side continue to grapple with the effects of injuries and a coronavirus outbreak that has seen four players and five staff test positive.
Harris' side were also missing key men, most notably defender Sean Morrison. Left-back Joe Bennett started in a makeshift central role alongside Curtis Nelson. The Bluebirds announced some horrible news in midweek, with defender Sol Bamba diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and starting chemotherapy.
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Former Ipswich striker and Cardiff's top scorer Moore returned to the bench, along with Canaries academy graduate Josh Murphy.
Cardiff had a golden opportunity to take the lead inside the opening minute via Harry Wilson after Ollie Skipp got caught in possession. Junior Hoilett slotted the Liverpool loanee through on goal, but his touch was heavy and Barden was able to collect confidently.
It was the Canaries who took the lead inside three minutes after Buendia's corner was flicked on by Mario Vrancic to the back post where an unmarked Hanley was waiting to head in from close range.
The Scot's goal marked the first time City have scored from a corner since Kenny McLean's strike against Manchester City in September 2019.
The Canaries had another chance to double their advantage on 18 minutes after Barden's long kick was missed by Nelson. Cantwell seized upon the loose ball and charged towards goal. He sought to curl the ball into the bottom right corner of the net but failed to hit the target with his effort.
Cardiff's press was high and that vacated plenty of space when Norwich managed to play through it.
That was the key to the Canaries' second goal, as they carved the Bluebirds open before Cantwell tapped into the net. Hanley's burst from defence progressed the ball into midfield. McLean picked it up before slotting Hugill through on goal. His effort was smothered by Alex Smithies but it fell kindly to the 22-year-old to tap home.
Cardiff continued to look for a route back into the game and Hoilett nearly found a goal shortly after the interval. Marlon Pack robbed the ball back for the hosts and found the Canadian winger who curled his effort over the bar.
Buendia's dummied free-kick sent Aarons charging down the right on 54 minutes. His cross found Vrancic who swept an effort goalwards, only for Smithies to save.
The Welsh side did get themselves back into the game after Ralls drilled a shot into the net.
A poor pass from Cantwell saw the Canaries concede possession too easily in the final third. The hosts countered and Bacuna's persistence saw him beat Aarons and turn McLean in the area before teeing up the midfielder to finish.
Despite a noticeable lift in Cardiff's performance after the goal, they were reduced to ten men after Pack's rash challenge on Skipp. The Spurs loanee got the ball ahead of the experienced midfielder, who was unable to pull out of the challenge.
Seconds later, Cantwell had a fierce snapshot from the edge of the box beaten away by Smithies.
Vrancic nearly added a third when he weaved past several Cardiff defenders before firing a shot over the bar. Some industrious play from Cantwell created the opening for the Bosnian midfielder.
Przemek Placheta had two opportunities to add a cushion to their victory late on but saw one effort saved by Smithies and the other fly over the bar.
Despite a late flurry of deep crosses and set-pieces, City managed to see out a fraught second-half to secure victory. Swansea City face Barnsley later this evening in an attempt to reduce their gap at the top of the table.
- Cardiff City (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Bacuna (Murphy,87), Nelson, Bennett, Bagan; Pack (C), Vaulks; Ralls, Wilson, Hoilett (Ojo, 58); Glatzel (Moore, 58). Subs not used: Phillips (GK), Patten, Sang, Evans, Harris.
- Bookings: Pack (foul on Buendia, 54), Hoilett (foul on Aarons, 57), Wilson (foul on Cantwell, 89)
- Red Card: Pack (second bookable offence, 70)
- Goals: Ralls 65
- Norwich City (4-2-3-1): Barden; Aarons, Hanley (C), Gibson, Sorensen; Skipp, McLean; Buendia (Omobamidele, 90+5), Vrancic (Placheta, 76), Cantwell (Tettey, 90+2); Hugill. Subs not used: McCracken (GK), Dowell, Hernandez, Omotoye
- Bookings: None
- Goals: Hanley 3, Cantwell 23
- Added on time: 3 mins/ 4 mins
- Referee: Tony Harrington (County Durham)