David Freezer’s verdict: Exasperating efforts mixed with memorable moments as calls for patience begin to grate at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It may have been yet another opportunity to end a wretched Carrow Road run wasted by Norwich City but, strangely perhaps, this was a match many will never forget.
The sight of City fan David ‘Spud’ Thornhill lifting the fourth official’s electronic board to signal 10 minutes of injury-time, while desperately trying to hold back a huge grin, has already gone down in Canaries legend.
It brought a close to a farcical sideshow that left supporters both bemused and amused as worries spread around the stadium that the match could be abandoned at 1-1. Thankfully, that was never on the cards and the sight of a fourth official in jeans – after a groin injury had left linesman Mikes Jones in agony – will live long in the memory.
However, until that seven-minute break in play began in the 83rd minute, there had been plenty of entertainment on the pitch as well. It’s just that much of the action left the home fans exasperated with frustration.
After much talk of poor atmospheres at Carrow Road, there was a concerted effort from the Barclay and Snake Pit to crank up the volume in the hope of helping to bring an end to a worrying six-match slump without a home win.
With the presence of Alex Pritchard on the bench for the first time since his pre-season ankle injury and the return of former manager Alex Neil for the first time since his March sacking, dramatic holes were already waiting to be filled in the script.
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After a couple of early half-chance for the visitors, buoyed by a 2-1 win at Bristol City in midweek, City did their best to deflate the early atmosphere – Mario Vrancic the chief culprit, twice failing to beat the North End defence from wide free-kicks.
Next up it was Josh Murphy sparking the groans. After being played clean through by Wes Hoolahan and beating Preston keeper Chris Maxwell to the ball, the winger hesitated with an open net before him, inexplicably allowing Darnell Fisher to get back in time and block his shot.
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Along with an odd argument with visiting skipper Paul Huntington soon after, going chest to chest with the taller man after not getting a free-kick, the Canaries academy product again cut a frustrated figure as his struggles to find top gear continue.
Thankfully for the hosts however, yet again, they had James Maddison.
Fresh from celebrating his 21st birthday on Thursday the highly-rated playmaker almost lifted the roof off Carrow Road in the 34th minute.
Wes Hoolahan won a cheap free-kick to the left of the penalty area and Maddison stepped up to fire a high, curling effort into the top-right corner in beautiful style, cementing his status as a fan favourite even further.
There can be no Premier League scouts who are unaware of Maddison’s huge ability but as the England U21 international continues to shine, at least City can take comfort from his value continuing to rise.
However, from there the hosts regressed. Alan Browne’s acrobatic overhead-kick hit the bar and fine goal-saving blocks from Hanley and Zimmermann were required to head into the break still leading.
Hoolahan and Murphy were thwarted early in the second half but from there it was a case of hanging on, Preston’s equaliser in the 70th minute followed a calamitous error from Zimmermann, trying to let the ball run out of play only to be robbed by Jordan Hugill. Hanley bailed him out to deflect the ball behind for a corner but Huntington was given the freedom of Norfolk to head down from the set-piece and allow Tom Barkhuizen to flick home from point-blank range.
It was the least Neil’s team had deserved in truth, with City struggling to build a head of steam late on despite Daniel Farke’s roll of the dice in the 76th minute, bringing on Yanic Wildschut and Pritchard.
Instead – after the fuss and fun of the lengthy delay as the officials were forced into their changes – it was Gunn to the rescue to bravely block from Barkhuizen six minutes into added time.
Boos greeted the full-time whistle at Carrow Road for the second successive Saturday as the winless slump was extended to seven matches, City’s worst home run in the second tier in 18 years.
Ahead of Friday’s longest trip of the season to high-flying Cardiff, six league games without victory is threatening to turn this campaign into a battle to stay clear of the relegation scrap. With Maddison, Hoolahan, Murphy, an admittedly still rusty Nelson Oliveira and now Pritchard at his disposal, that is simply unacceptable.
Up until now the vast changes at the club in the past six months have afforded the German coach some leeway but with little rhythm and a frustrating style to City’s pattern of play continuing as Christmas approaches, calls for patience are beginning to grate.
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