Norwich 0, Leicester 0
David Cuffley Norwich City’s biggest crowd of the season had to settle for a goalless draw against Leicester City this afternoon, but the Canaries came desperately close to securing another precious Championship victory.
Norwich City's biggest crowd of the season had to settle for a goalless draw against Leicester City this afternoon, but the Canaries came desperately close to securing another precious Championship victory.
Veteran striker Dion Dublin, who this week announced his intention to retire at the end of the season, struck the woodwork with headers in the sixth minute and the final minute of the match, while Lee Croft had a goal disallowed in the early stages.
In a lively first half, there were five yellow cards shown, and the Canaries should really have secured an interval lead.
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They were more subdued for much of the second half, but produced a grandstand finish, with Gary Doherty, substitute Jamie Cureton and then Dublin all coming close to snatching the winner.
It was the third successive home draw in the Championship for Glenn Roeder's team and their fifth in seven league games.
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The major talking point before kick-off was the absence of Darren Huckerby from the Norwich 16. Huckerby, who was substituted 25 minutes before the end of Tuesday's FA Cup defeat at Bury, had not started the previous two league games but it was unclear whether he was carrying an injury. However, Huckerby was on the pitch before the start to receive an award as PFA Fans' Player of the Month for December.
His omission was one of five changes to the starting line-up from the Bury game, with Jamie Cureton, Matty Pattison and Michael Spillane relegated to the bench and Ryan Jarvis left out of the 16. Back into the side came fullback Jon Otsemobor, who missed the FA Cup game because of a heel injury, and striker Ched Evans, who was not eligible for that game. Lee Croft, Dion Dublin and Mo Camara, all of whom came on as substitutes in midweek, were restored to the starting 11.
Leicester showed two changes to the team that beat Coventry 2-0 last Saturday, with James Wesolowski recalled in midfield for the injured Stephen Clemence and defender Bruno N'Gotty replacing Patrick Kisnorbo.
Leicester kicked off defending the Barclay goal and there was a murmur of excitement in the opening minute when a back pass by McAuley almost fell short of goalkeeper Alnwick but he just managed to hammer the ball clear as Dublin closed in.
In Leicester's first attack Howard tried a long range effort but it went past Marshall's right-hand post.
Many in the home crowd thought the Canaries had taken the lead after four minutes when Croft had the ball in the net with a cool finish from a cross by Bertrand, but the flag was already up for offside.
It was a bright start by Norwich and they forced two corners in quick succession. From the first of them, taken by Fotheringham, there were appeals for handball against McAuley from the home crowd. Fotheringham took the next one, too, and this time Norwich were desperately close to going ahead when Dublin's powerful header rebounded off the crossbar with the keeper beaten.
At the other end, Shackell did some neat tidying up with a header back to Marshall from a cross by Laczko.
The visitors won their first corner after 10 minutes when Camara tackled Bori, but the kick from Oakley was too strong and went beyond the far post, where Fotheringham was able to clear.
The Canaries won another corner thanks to a very nervous clearance by Mattock, but this time Alnwick made an easy catch from Fotheringham's kick.
The keeper had to work harder after 14 minutes when a centre from Croft had him stretching to clear from under the crossbar after excellent work by Fotheringham and Dublin. Then Croft nodded back a cross from the left by Russell and Alnwick was perhaps fortunate to get a free-kick when he dropped the ball under challenge from Dublin.
Norwich won a free-kick close to the right corner flag when an attempted cross by Evans was cut out by the arm of N'Gotty. Fotheringham rolled his dead ball kick back to Evans, but the youngster's side foot effort could not find its way through a crowd of players and Leicester breathed again.
As the rain began to fall, Leicester mounted a rare attack but Wesolowski's right foot shot was about a yard wide.
Norwich threatened again when Evans tried a first time shot from a cross by Otsemobor, but it was blocked by N'Gotty.
Norwich were certainly producing some neat football and after a move involving Croft and Evans, Fotheringham's through ball was only just too strong for Croft as he went in pursuit.
A miss-kick by Camara enabled Bori to send Hume away on the right flank but after cutting inside onto his left foot, he delivered a poor cross which went behind for a goal kick.
Bertrand forced Stearman to concede a corner after a determined run and keeper Alnwick was again at full stretch to palm away Fotheringham's flag kick.
The Canaries were awarded a free-kick moments later when McAuley fouled Bertrand. This time Fotheringham aimed the kick towards Dublin but Leicester were able to clear.
With 28 minutes gone Norwich had another great opening when a ricochet off Russell left Croft clean through, but the keeper managed to block his low shot when it looked as if he was set to give his side the lead.
Croft produced another goal bound effort a minute later but his chip from the edge of the area lacked power and was easily held by Alnwick.
There was a hold up in play when Oakley needed treatment after a three-man collision which also involved Howard and Russell and it appeared Oakley may have come off worse thanks to his own team mate.
There were appeals for handball once again, against Laczko, as Norwich pushed forward but the referee was unimpressed.
A bad tackle from behind by Stearman on Evans earned the first yellow card of the afternoon and an angry reaction from the home crowd and the youngster needed treatment before he was able to continue.
A deft back heel by Croft and a determined run by Otsemobor led to another raid on the Leicester area. Dublin was just unable to get his head to the fullback's cross and Evans, following up, could not quite find space for a shot but Fotheringham let fly with a powerful drive that flashed wide.
There were angry scenes in the Leicester six-yard box six minutes before the interval, which ended with keeper Alnwick and Norwich's Russell being booked. As Dublin nodded back a cross from Croft, Oakley tried to chest the ball back to the keeper but managed to put it beyond him as Russell slid in for the loose ball, but Alnwick reacted angrily and wrestled the Norwich man to the ground, where upon other players dived in. Dublin managed to extract Russell from the melee, but referee Bates called him back and booked him as well as the keeper. Moments later, there were angry exchanges between the two managers, Roeder and Holloway, on the touchline which added to the aggravation.
Things were a little heated and Fotheringham was shown the yellow card for a trip on Hume.
The official had no choice but to show the yellow card again in the final minute of the half when Wesolowski slid in with a bad challenge on Russell.
Leicester made one change at the interval with former Plymouth striker Hayles replacing Laczko.
The Canaries won another corner less than a minute after the restart but Fotheringham's kick did not get as far as the near post before it was headed clear.
As the visitors attacked, a free-kick from Hume looked dangerous and it was striker Evans who managed to get it clear with his head. Hume attempted another strike when he briefly got away from Camara, but this time he sliced it behind Marshall's goal.
Seven minutes into the half, Russell earned another corner, which Fotheringham aimed towards Doherty but the defender was slightly off balance and was unable to get any power behind his header, with McAuley able to clear.
Dublin then pounced on a loose ball and tried to poke a right-foot shot past Alnwick, but the keeper managed to stretch out his left hand and Leicester cleared their lines.
Leicester manager Holloway made his second change nine minutes into the half when Chambers came on for Mattock in a straight swap at left back.
Leicester looked more purposeful after the break and there was a moment of alarm when Hayles beat Marshall to a high bounce but Otsemobor was on hand to clear the loose ball.
Norwich were having to hurry a little bit more at the back and an attempted cross field ball from Doherty struck the chest of Howard but, fortunately, it rebounded into the path of Marshall and the keeper was able to collect.
Wesolowski, who had already been booked, felled Russell with another clumsy challenge but the Canaries were unable to profit from the free-kick and were generally struggling to find their touch in the second half after such a promising first-half performance.
The home crowd of 25,462, the biggest of the season by just one, were doing their best to lift their side as the match entered the final quarter. Their hopes were raised when Evans played a one-two with Dublin but the youngster sliced his shot high and wide.
A free-kick from the halfway line, taken by N'Gotty, almost posed problems for the hosts as Marshall had to slide out under pressure from Hayles to gather the ball.
The Canaries were being repeatedly frustrated by the offside flag and with 20 minutes left, they were no nearer to getting a breakthrough.
There was a real scare after 71 minutes when a shot from Hayles struck the foot of the post as he met a cross from Hume with a first-time effort and the visitors had begun to look just a little more confident.
It was by now a very wet afternoon and the extent of the rain was clearly visible in the floodlights.
After 74 minutes, Roeder made his first change when Cureton, sporting a fairly severe haircut, was sent on in place of Evans.
A long clearance by Otsemobor almost caught the Leicester back four napping and with Cureton in pursuit, it needed Alnwick to race out of his area to hammer the ball clear.
Oakley fired a left-foot shot wide after a quickly taken throw in by the visitors, but the game seemed to have entered something of a lull without too many clear cut chances at either end.
With just over 10 minutes to go, there was very nearly an own goal when Stearman got on the end of a cross from Cureton and diverted it just over his own crossbar. Cureton had looked lively since coming on and forced Alnwick to beat away his powerful drive from just outside the box.
A cross from Croft almost provided an opening as Dublin nodded it back, but the ball just would not drop for Cureton.
With eight minutes to go, the visitors made their final change when King replaced Bori.
With just five minutes left, Cureton produced an excellent flick from a Fotheringham pass into the path of Russell but the midfielder, despite getting a touch, collided with the keeper and McAuley hooked the loose ball over his own crossbar. The corner produced nothing, but moments later Doherty was very close to making the breakthrough when his header from a cross by Fotheringham was just the wrong side of the post.
The Canaries were looking livelier again and a cross from Croft went agonisingly across the face of the goal before Leicester were able to clear. As the visitors broke quickly, Hayles got away from Doherty and there was real danger as he nudged the ball past Marshall, but Shackell ran behind the keeper to make a vital interception.
Cureton volleyed over the top as Norwich looked desperately for that late winner. It almost came in the last minute when Dublin hit the post with a superb header from a cross by Croft.
In the two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, Croft fired over the bar from a tight angle. In the dying seconds, Fotheringham had the opportunity to create something from a free-kick but failed to get it past the first man.
t Norwich City: Marshall; Otsemobor, Shackell, Doherty, Camara; Croft, Fotheringham, Russell, Bertrand; Dublin, Evans. Subs: Cureton (for Evans). Not used: Gilks, Pattison, Spillane, Martin.
t Leicester City: Alnwick, Stearman, N'Gotty, McAuley, Mattock, Laczko, Oakley, Wesolowski, Bori, Hume, Howard. Subs: Hayles (for Laczko, HT), James Chambers (for Mattock), King (for Bori). Not used: Fryatt, Henderson.
t Referee: Anthony Bates (Staffordshire). Last in charge of City in October, when Bristol City left Carrow Road with a 3-1 win. In 20 games this season he's issued 48 yellow cards and two reds.