Leon hits the spot for success
RICK WAGHORN Norwich City 2, Leicester City 1: A 77th-minute penalty from Leon McKenzie earned Norwich their fifth straight home success with a 2-1 win over Leicester City. With Preston picking up three more points away at Coventry, today’s result still leaves Norwich 11 points off the play-off places – an unbridgeable gap that did much to dictate the subdued, occasionally silent atmosphere at Carrow Road as Norwich’s season wandered down the final straight.
Norwich City 2, Leicester City 1
A 77th-minute penalty from Leon McKenzie earned Norwich their fifth straight home success with a 2-1 win over Leicester City.
With Preston picking up three more points away at Coventry, today's result still leaves Norwich 11 points off the play-off places - an unbridgeable gap that did much to dictate the subdued, occasionally silent atmosphere at Carrow Road as Norwich's season wandered down the final straight.
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Robert Earnshaw's smartly-taken opener edged the Canaries ahead in a pretty lifeless encounter, only for a Gareth Williams thunderbolt after the break to level the scores.
Once again it was left to the dancing feet of Huckerby to drag the Canaries back into the lead as the City winger persuaded young defender Richard Stearman to clip his passing heels and give McKenzie the chance to convert from the penalty spot.
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With Ipswich losing away at Luton - and both Wolves and Cardiff slipping up, Norwich continued to move upwards, albeit in a stuttering fashion with their last play-off hope having realistically ended away at Burnley last week.
As the Canaries prepared for this afternoon's home clash with an inform Leicester City side, so Norwich boss Nigel Worthington made one significant change at the heart of his side with the return of Youssef Safri to frontline duties. With Jonatan Johansson finding himself back on the bench following that miserable away defeat at Burnley, so Andy Hughes found himself out on the right in order to accommodate Safri's return. As expected today's home clash also saw a switch back to 4-4-2 with Earnshaw partnering McKenzie up front.
For the Foxes it was same again please - the fact that stand in boss Rob Kelly had just won March's manager of the month award, merely underlined the fact there was no need to tinker with a winning formula.
With the visitors kicking off it was Norwich who started the brighter and forced three quick free-kicks as Leon McKenzie and Leicester skipper Patrick McCarthy embarked on what looked set to be a bruising afternoon.
With both sides guilty of some sloppy possession in the game's opening exchanges, clear cut chances were proving few and far between. Darren Huckerby almost squeezed in as he latched on to a Leon McKenzie flick, while McKenzie himself almost capitalised on a spot of hesitancy between McCarthy and his keeper Paul Henderson.
Leicester's first real chance came from a 10th minute free-kick when set-piece specialist Joey Gudjonsson drilled a low 20-yard effort to Green's right which the Canary keeper comfortably saved.
While the Canaries enjoyed a greater share of the ball, they continued to struggle to gain a clear sight of Henderson's goal.
Earnshaw's best moment arrived in the 17th minute with a wonderful tight little turn to spin away from full-back Richard Stearman.
The Foxes' defender was left with little option but to make a clumsy challenge on the very edge of the Leicester box for which Norwich were duly handed a free-kick in an inviting position, despite the loud appeals for a penalty from both players and supporters alike. Huckerby opted to take it quickly, only for the covering Stearman to conceded the game's first corner. Once again Huckerby stepped up for the set-piece, only for his lofted delivery to be cleared at the far post and the chance to go begging.
As for Leicester they were struggling to enjoy much in the way of possession with the game soon having a real, end-of-season air to it.
Norwich earned their due reward for that brighter start in the 28th minute when Earnshaw stole in on the end of a smart Safri through-ball to clip the ball first-time beyond the advancing Henderson.
Two minutes earlier and Norwich should have had a penalty as Patrick Kisnorbo hauled Gary Docherty to the ground as he looked to connect with a Safri corner.
Referee Andy D'Urso was unimpressed as were the Canary faithful on 29 minutes when he hauled play back for an earlier foul with Huckerby free and charging down the left.
In between Earnshaw had grabbed his fourth strike since his £2.75m move as Safri latched onto a loose piece of control from skipper McCarthy before breaking clear of two blue shirts and sending an on-side Earnshaw free with a perfectly-weighted diagonal ball.
Just after the half hour mark and Hughes came close to extending Norwich's advantage as a neat one-two between McKenzie and Huckerby found the Norwich midfielder arriving on cue to send an instinctive first time shot just wide of Henderson's right upright.
With McKenzie enjoying the better of the contest with McCarthy, the striker almost made amends for last Friday night's horror miss by wrestling his way into the Leicester box, only to lift his final shot just wide of the upright with the Leicester centre half trailing badly.
As the second half opened it was Leicester who produced the first shot of any note when Fryatt found himself free through the inside right channel but his cross-shot proved a comfortable save for the alert Green.
At the other end Huckerby continued to give Stearman plenty to think about as he broke menacingly tight on the by-line and duly earned the first corner of the second period. The ball eventually fell to Robinson lurking on the edge of the penalty area but his mis-hit shot skipped a good 10-yards wide.
With the game meandering nowhere in particular the first change of the afternoon came in the 57th minute when Gudjonsson was replaced by Andrew Welsh in the heart of the Foxes' midfield. Otherwise the game continued in its end-of-season way.
Hughes earned a round of applause for taking an earlier Gudjonsson free-kick firmly in the midriff while Huckerby looked to mean business every time he collected the ball.
The first booking arrived three minutes later when Huckerby sprinted clear of Stephen Hughes and the struggling Stearman only to be unceremoniously dumped on the turf by Hughes' trailing leg.
Moments earlier, Earnshaw had seen a 12-yard snapshot fly way over the bar as he suddenly found himself free and unmarked, only for the linesman's offside flag to spare the Welsh international's blushes.
The Canaries gentle afternoon stroll in the sun was suddenly disturbed by a stunning strike from Gareth Williams. There appeared to be little or no danger as the one-time Nottingham Forest midfielder teed himself up some 25-yards distance, an instant later the ball was nestling inside Green's right-hand post as Williams' rocket flew past a startled Norwich keeper. It was quite literally a bolt from the blue and left an already quite Carrow Road crowd lost for words.
The feeling that this was fast descending into a 'classic' end-of-season clash was merely reinforced by events of the next 10 minutes as the game continued to peter out into something of a non-event.
Chances at either end were few and far between with Doherty in particular, continuing to look strong and solid at the back.
That all changed, however, in the 74th minute when Huckerby earned a penalty off the hapless Stearman. The Canary winger darted in between two defenders and looked as if he was clearly clipped by the struggling fullback.
The Leicester players angrily disagreed with referee D'Urso as he pointed to the spot - a debate that Huckerby opted to continue as McKenzie patiently waited to take the spot kick. After all the fuss McKenzie calmly strolled up and tucked the ball side-footed beneath the diving Henderson.
With tempers starting to fray youngster Stearman was in danger in ending the game early as he and Huckerby continued to tangle with one another away on the far touchline.
A break for an injury to Leon McKenzie allowed Leicester to make a second change with Chris O'Grady replacing Nils-Eric Johansson. The substitute was swiftly into the action, nodding the ball down into the path of Hume whose first touch released partner Fryatt. His first shot looked to be arrowing in, only for Green to produce a fine save to his left which was warmly applauded by the Barclay faithful behind him and, no doubt, by the watching England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence.
With the clock starting to tick down, the Canaries forced two late corners which prompted a spell of time wasting deep by the corner flag.
With Preston leading 1-0 away at Coventry today's result was growing ever less relevant and might do little else but to ensure that Norwich steal the East Anglian honours off Ipswich.
With the fourth official announcing there would be a minimum of three minutes added on time, Norwich chief Worthington waited for the chance to throw Johansson into the fray in a bid to waste a few more seconds. In the end, however, time just ran out on Johansson as the Canaries held on quite comfortably to their one goal advantage.