Earnshaw opens his Canary account
CHRIS WISE Norwich City 3, Brighton 0: Norwich City finally recorded their first victory of 2006 at the eighth time of asking tonight — but they still made desperately hard work of it against a relegation-haunted side who were forced to play for almost half the game with just 10 men.
Norwich City 3, Brighton 0
Norwich City finally recorded their first victory of 2006 at the eighth time of asking tonight - but they still made desperately hard work of it against a relegation-haunted side who were forced to play for almost half the game with just 10 men.
In the end it was an evening to remember for City new boy Robert Earnshaw who opened his account for the Canaries with a well taken double near the end to ensure a hard-earned victory.
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But before that double tonic Norwich supporters had been forced to endure another indifferent performance from their side with the struggling Seagulls going close to an equaliser on a number of occasions.
The Canaries were by some distance the better side in the opening period and fully deserved to go into the break ahead, courtesy of Darren Huckerby's well taken 28th minute effort.
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But once Adam Hinshelwood had been dismissed for his second bookable offence, 11 minutes after the interval, it was a different story with Brighton looking the better side for long periods before Earnshaw's double finally clinched the points.
The supporters appeared to be on edge all evening as City played in fits and starts and there were sporadic calls for manager Nigel Worthington to resign in the second half before Earnshaw struck to silence the critics - for the time being at least.
The atmosphere inside Carrow Road was low key to say the least as the game got under way. But an unchanged City side did their best to lift it by creating three good openings in the early stages.
Bearing in mind Norwich's recent form it was always going to be a case of players lifting the fans rather than the other way around, but the hosts seemed up for the challenge and took only six minutes to get their first effort on goal. Peter Thorne almost got on the end of a loose ball when Youssef Safri's angle-free kick was blocked in the six yard box and the Canaries went even closer to breaking the deadlock in their next attack.
This time a neat move down the left flank ended with Huckerby flicking the ball through to Thorne just outside the six-yard box. The striker's first-time effort was well blocked by Paul McShane and when the ball rebounded out kindly to Huckerby, keeper Wayne Henderson had to produce an excellent one-handed save to keep the scores level.
As City continued to pile on the pressure, Huckerby then skimmed his marker Adam El-Abd before narrowly failing to pick out Jonatan Johansson who'd taken up an excellent position inside the area.
Brighton, who looked a distinctly ordinary side, had threatened briefly on two minutes when young striker Joe Gatting headed a deflected shot just wide of the target.
But it was pretty much one-way traffic towards the visitors' goal, with the hosts playing some enterprising football at times and they finally got the goal they deserved on 28 minutes.
There was an element of good fortune about the game with an harassed looking El-Abd generously nodding on a long clearance from Robert Green. But you could only admire the finishing of Huckerby who took the ball neatly in his stride before beating Henderson with the coolest of finishes into the roof of the net.
The Canaries were now playing with a pleasing amount of confidence for a side who had failed to win any of their previous seven games, with Robert Earnshaw becoming increasingly prominent as the game went on.
But the City new boy got a little bit carried away in the 33rd minute when he was caught in possession in the centre of the park and his slip allowed Brighton to launch a quick raid which ended with Gary Hart bringing a smart, and extremely important, save out of Green.
Brighton started the second half brightly with Alexandre Frutos getting an early free kick on target. But they were rocked back on their heels on 56 minutes when Hinshelwood, who was making his first appearance for 11 months after recovering from a serious knee injury, saw red. The midfielder had been booked in the first half for kicking the ball away to prevent a quick free kick and received a second yellow for a slight tug on the shirt of Huckerby as the City winger attempted to break free down the left. It looked like a harsh decision but referee Mick Thorpe was merely applying the letter of the law and, as a result of this decision, the Canaries appeared to be in a perfect position to assume control.
Sadly that's not the way it turned out. And increasingly frustrated fans had to wait until the 70th minute for their side's first chance of the half - a Gary Doherty header from a Safri free kick which sailed harmlessly wide of the target.
The better chances were coming at the other end even though Brighton were at a numerical disadvantage. Frutos tested Green with an acrobatic volley that the City keeper carried over the line for a corner and, just three minutes later Gatting almost turned a header from El-Abd into the back of the net.
Gatting, son of former Seagulls star Steve Gatting, added to the general sense of unease at Carrow Road as he tested Green with a smart snapshot from the edge of the area, while City looked like the side with 10 men as they struggled to create any openings of their own.
The chances finally started to arrive in the closing stages as a brave Brighton side ran out of steam and substitute Leon McKenzie had already fired one effort against an upright when Earnshaw decided to take centre stage.
His first goal arrived on 87 minutes after a quick throw from Green had given Huckerby a clear run down the left. The flying winger might have gone for gold himself but chose instead to square the ball to the Welsh international who gleefully fired the ball into an unguarded net from the edge of the six-yard box.
That brought the first sight of Earnshaw's famous backward somersault celebration since his £2.7-million move from West Bromwich Albion and there was another one to follow three minutes later.
This time Earnshaw latched onto a well judged through ball from Paul McVeigh and ignored Brighton appeals for offside as he raced through before chipping over the advancing Henderson with the ball going in off the post and the linesman awarding it despite a frantic last ditch clearance.
There was still one or two chants of “we still want Worthy out” as Norwich celebrated an overdue win but this result gave the City manager some important breathing space and now he will be looking for another positive result at home to Derby on Saturday.