Latest twist makes Norwich City victims
NORWICH CITY 1, DONCASTER ROVERS 1: Norwich City have developed an uncanny knack of providing late – often very late – drama for their paying customers, but last night they were both the villains and victims in another of their tales of the unexpected.
The Canaries let two valuable Championship points slip away when an own goal by Adam Drury, just seven minutes from time, gave injury-hit Doncaster Rovers a share of the spoils at Carrow Road.
Drury glanced a corner from John Oster into his own net to cancel out skipper Grant Holt’s 15th goal of the season and leave another packed house stunned.
For supporters who celebrated with joyous disbelief when Russell Martin, Henri Lansbury and Holt struck late goals in the previous three home games, it was like a slap in the face with a wet kipper.
If all the talk on the morning of the match centred on the Doncaster chairman’s desire to have the match postponed because of his club’s injury problems – be it a genuine grievance or clever psychology – it was City, or at least their fans, who perhaps ended up wishing it had been played another day.
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In the opening half-hour, Paul Lambert’s men looked to be suffering a little from the effects of a titanic battle at Elland Road three days earlier. But though City were not at their best, once Holt had given them the lead in the 31st minute, they created enough opportunities to have made the game safe, with Holt, Aaron Wilbraham and Andrew Crofts missing the best openings.
Results elsewhere were unhelpful though not disastrous, with Nottingham Forest and Leeds also failing to win home games against teams in the bottom half of the table. But out of the five draws City have registered in the past nine matches, some of them heroic efforts, this one was the real missed opportunity.
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For a team supposedly so deprived of key players, Doncaster began brightly enough and goalkeeper John Ruddy was brought into action twice, by a Joseph Mills free-kick and a Mark Wilson snapshot, in the opening stages.
Defender Elliott Ward twice had to make important challenges, diverting Franck Moussa’s shot over the bar after good work by John Oster, then cutting out a cross by Moussa.
But with just over half an hour played, City’s first decent attempt of the night gave them the lead.
It was the simplest of goals as Drury sent over a cross from wide on the left touchline and Holt arrived unmarked at the far post to meet it with a sweetly-struck sidefoot volley into the roof of the net.
One minute before the break, however, Holt really should have made it 2-0 but fired over from another Drury cross after a clever touch from Lansbury.
After the interval, City had the lion’s share of the chances and could have been comfortably ahead before Drury’s late mishap.
Lansbury’s shot from a Russell Martin slapped against Sam Hird, prompting appeals for handball, though it appeared to strike the defender just under the armpit.
A fine through-ball from Zak Whitbread then set up a good chance for Wilbraham, but as he cut inside on to his right foot, he curled his effort wide.
Doncaster threatened to level the scores as Ruddy saved a low drive from Moussa, and Ward halted a splendid run by the impressive Mills, but most of the goalmouth action was at the other end.
Holt volleyed over from a Lansbury cross and Wilbraham could have scored his first goal for the club when Russell Martin’s excellent cross presented him with a header in the six-yard box, but it was straight at goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who parried it.
Crofts then missed a golden opportunity when Holt’s cross presented him with a shot from 10 yards out but he sliced a left-foot effort wide.
Substitute Andrew Surman’s first contribution was a shot blocked by Wayne Thomas, but City could not deliver that vital second goal. They paid for those misses in the 83rd minute when Oster took a corner from the left side, Russell Martin jumped but appeared to miss it, and Drury, behind him, glanced a header past his own ’keeper.
The goal sparked more urgency from City and from a subdued home crowd and Wilbraham had another header blocked, but Doncaster might even have snatched all three points as they broke quickly, Ruddy making an important save from Jason Euell as he got on the end of a cross from Oster.
Whitbread had a header blocked at close range by Paul Keegan, but that was City’s last throw of the dice.
In marked contrast to the euphoria at the end of recent home games, a brief chorus of boos greeted the final whistle, but Lambert was not about to criticise his players – at least not publicly – and was quick to appeal for a bit of perspective with his team still fifth in the table in their first season back in the Championship. After just two defeats in 19 league games, he had a point, though he would doubtless have preferred three.