City run into Preston dead end
RICK WAGHORN On-loan Canary striker Jonatan Johansson proved a master of understatement on Saturday afternoon as he reflected on City's 2-0 defeat at Preston North End.
On-loan Canary striker Jonatan Johansson proved a master of understatement on Saturday afternoon as he reflected on City's 2-0 defeat at Preston North End.
“It was not a good game,” said the Finnish international striker, as Norwich served up another big helping of Lancashire crock pot to end their last hopes of stealing a play-off place on an all-too predictable low.
Youssef Safri did not even travel having been ruled out for the rest of the season 24 hours earlier with gall bladder problems, while Leon McKenzie's day out at Deepdale lasted little more than ten minutes before Claude Davis took a sneaky whack into his back and gave Jonatan Johansson the chance to chase a lost cause for the next 80 minutes as own goals from Jason Shackell and then Gary Doherty handed Preston the points on a plate.
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“It didn't help giving them two own goals, but we just couldn't break them down,” said Johansson, as any last hope of anyone watching a decent, sporting spectacle ended once the Lilywhites went 4-5-1 to protect their gift-wrapped lead and Norwich went all end-of-season on a wind-blown, furrow-strewn pitch. A brief, late rally and one blocked, Johansson shot was the best they could muster.
“But for the own goals we could have possibly got something out of it,” said City boss Nigel Worthington, who suggested it was “one of our better away performances”.
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In fairness, the Canaries were never wholly over-run QPR or Crystal Palace-style, but equally they never really budged a stubborn Preston defence who racked up their fourth consecutive clean sheet with relative ease en route to booking their own place in the play-offs.
“At this stage of the season it's all about winning games and it's not about the pretty football that we play,” said an unapologetic Billy Davies afterwards.
“It's about getting over the line,” added the Preston boss. “Our objective was to get a clean sheet and we got one or two little breaks in the box.”
It was a policy that Norwich had little answer to. “They're very defensive - as you can see from the results they get,” said Johansson, with Preston having conceded just 28 goals all season - the same as runaway leaders Reading. The Royals have just scored 42 goals more.
Goals change games - own goals, in particular.
“It is disappointing, but that's all part of the game,” said Worthington. “For the first one the ball has come in very quickly and Jason has tried to get his head on it - unfortunately it came off the wrong side of his head.
“For the other one Gary had to stretch for a cross and with a Preston player putting him under pressure, it has ended up in the back of the net.
“After that I thought both teams gave it a go in what were difficult conditions because of the wind and the bumpy pitch. In the end it was a typical Championship game.”
Worthington will now come under increasing pressure to blood one or two of his younger players as he starts to plan for the start of next season. With Safri due to go under the surgeon's knife today in a bid to tidy up an on-going problem, Worthington revealed that the opportunity will now knock for Dickson Etuhu to take centre stage.
“We'll have a look at giving him a decent run now,” said Worthington. Republic of Ireland Under-17 star Michael Spillane is also likely to come into the manager's thinking. With Doherty and Shackell - own goals apart - looking reasonably solid, the likelihood is that the Academy teenager will get his chance at either right-back or centre-midfield.
Slung in alongside Etuhu, in theory the Canaries will have two players that aren't exactly afraid to slam in to someone and get a foot on the ball. What they do with the ball thereafter will be the $64 million dollar question.